Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Jane Seymour, Keith Carradine, Mike Starr, Vinessa Shaw, Ethan Embrey and Mike Doyle.
Writers/directors: Evangelos and George Giovanis.
The small but fervent festival following that George and Evangelos Giovanis have developed will grow in enthusiastic numbers with their latest, Bereave. Those who backed the expertly executed crowd-funding drive to the tune of US$100,000 can be rest assured that every cent is well spent by the Greek sibling auteurs; everyone involved in this moving, acutely realised drama maximises the worthy material and is at the top of their game.
Only their fourth film in a decade and six years since their last work, the highly-honoured Run It, The Giovanis’ lyrical script opens with a gripping sequence in which waning patriarch Garvey (Malcolm McDowell) contemplates another day of directionless existence. Denied a messy self-inflicted end by the call of his wife Evelyn (Jane Seymour), Garvey is revealed as both a brash crank (“Today, you almost look beautiful,” he tells the still-stunning Seymour) and struggling with an increasingly fractured memory.
As the day unfolds, Evelyn’s patience with her boorish, troubled husband begins to unravel inexorably until her own attempts at a final booze-and-pill cocktail send her into the unfriendly Los Angeles night. Struggling to cope with their parents strained marriage and shrinking mortality are daughter Penelope (Vinessa Shaw), a single mother fearful that she is losing grip of her own pre-teen daughter, Cleo (Rachel Eggleston); and, son Steve (Mike Doyle), a decent man whose West Coast charms ensnare the lithesome Natalie (Hannah Cowley) but barely register with his distracted, flighty mother.
Some third act melodrama involving petty thugs and the occasional over-indulgence in florid dialogue (“I only speak violin”) can’t derail the strength of character-driven central narrative established masterfully in the films first half. Powerful scenes of potent drama set largely in the protagonist’s slick, sleek chrome-and-glass apartment allow McDowell and, in particular, Seymour some of their best on-screen moments in many years. The British acting pair find a deep, dark complexity to the marital dynamic, the filmmakers affording their stars the time and space to delve deep into the damaged psyches of Garvey and Evelyn.
A terrific Keith Carradine rounds out the acting honours as Garvey’s longtime confidant, the alpha-male Victor, his presence crucial to a subplot that thematically reinforces the emotional pain of receding memory. An extended sequence early in the film, in which Garvey reveals for Victor the desperation of his existence, provides McDowell and Carradine the kind of dramatic beats only the finest of thespians could pull off; both are mesmerising in the scene.
Recalling Michael Haneke’s Amour in its exploration of fading memory, mature-age love and dwindling life force but played against the broader backdrop of the noir-ish LA sprawl, Bereave is an achingly insightful, darkly humorous, richly rewarding work by two important creative forces. It must certainly be the last time the Brothers Giovanis have to rely on passionate fans and their own sales skill to secure feature film funding. The coffers of those that oversee the top tier of international film production should be open to these mature, masterful, unique storytellers immediately.
Screening at the Byron Bay International Film Festival. Session details and tickets available here.