“Nostalgia “ - a lamentation on loss –
opens Friday, March 2nd, in Albuquerque
“Nostalgia” (2018) explores grief, mementos, and memories in a beautiful thoughtful film. It is the most recent film of prolific director and producer Mark Pellington (a sampling of his work includes “The Last Word” (2017), “The Mothman Prophesies” (2002), “Arlington Road” (1999), episodes of “Blind Spot” and “Cold Case”, and countless music videos).
The screenplay of Alex Ross Perry is interpreted with care by a stellar ensemble cast that includes Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn, Catherine Keener, Bruce Dern, Jon Ortiz, and Amber Tamblyn.
The story moves along at a slow pace, with long takes and a focus on dialogue. Emotions are portrayed by carefully chosen words and silence, allowing the viewer to concentrate on nuanced facial expressions. There is a sensibility that this is more of a stage production than a film since the prose spoken is more eloquent than day-to-day conversations we normally hear or engage in. The camera will on occasion hold shots to the point of discomfort to emphasize the undercurrent of feelings, perhaps a bit overdone now and then.
I like the unusual structure of this film. It begins with insurance man Daniel (John Ortiz) intruding on the acerbic Ronald (Bruce Dern) as he sits in his cluttered house surrounded by dusty books, aged photos, a chess set, and piles of magazines and other household items. Ronald’s granddaughter wants an evaluation of the worth of his property but isn’t there as it is happening.
Daniel is bemused by Ronald’s blend of attachment and detachment from his things and their value (or lack of value). Though Ronald is irritated by the intrusion, he allows the voyeuristic Daniel to take his photo and as Daniel leaves, queries, “Won’t you be coming back?” He won’t.
Next, Daniel visits the granddaughter (Amber Tamblyn) and while we never learn of why she is alienated from her grandfather, it’s clear that she wants some sort of memento, something that will remind her of the lives lived before her: a diary, photos, perhaps love letters.
Each character in the film is losing or has lost loved ones and, in the case of Daniel’s next client Helen (Ellyn Burstyn) - her home. It was burned down and she had just moments to recover some things from inside: a few pieces of heirloom jewelry and an old baseball beloved by her husband. Not only does Helen grieve the loss of her home. These few saved items resonate with memories of her life with her husband and family.
As Daniel spends a bit of time with Helen and her neighbors he’s asked what it is like for him to be constantly dealing with losses of others. His response: “It never hurts me personally and it never gets old.” He is strangely attracted to the job, always learning something new about people and their possessions. But he admits, “Nobody wants to be talking to me. Knowing that makes my job a lot easier.” Ovitz’s character is intriguing, but we don’t learn much more about him. After he gazes at the bleak burned remains of Ellyn’s house, he mutters, “lives lived” and then fades from the film.
Helen carries the plot on first, as she visits a memorabilia dealer Will (John Hamm), considering whether to part with her husband’s most treasured possession, the baseball. Then we follow Will as he returns to the family home, meeting his sister Donna (Catherine Keener). They are preparing to empty out the remaining things since their folks have retired to a Florida condo.
Each character contemplates what is left behind, how they relate to these mementos and the memories they awaken, and whether there is value in keeping them. An interesting perspective is that of Millennials, portrayed by Donna’s daughter and her friends. All their memories are captured digitally. When they pass, will there be any physical mementos to carry on their memories?
Each story awakens memories in the characters as they look over memorabilia, things that represent feelings, and decide whether to value them. While the film emphasizes the meaning that people place on possessions and the stories they represent, in the end it is about facing death and what remains behind. Love.
“Nostalgia” evokes for me memories of Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers” (1972), although that is an entirely different film. But both have the sensibility of acknowledging the inherent grief and pain in life. In the end, both question, “What do we leave behind?” In Bergman’s film, the answer is dark. “Nostalgia” offers some solace. The pace of each of these films also allows plenty of time to reflect and impose personal stories and beliefs into these films. Each film also explores darkness that is faced when one contemplates the questions brought to the foreground by death.
Underscored by original music composed by Laurent Eyquem and various jazz pieces as Will and Donna look over their parents’ vinyl collection, the film overall has a contemplative tone. Patrick Watson’s “Lighthouse” is a beautifully expressive tune and well chosen for the closing credits.
The pleasing cinematography of Matt Sakatani Roe offers a meaningful backdrop to the loosely connected stories. Shades of blues and greens predominate, signifying to me the juxtaposition of loss and hope. Transitions between scenes are unique, abstract flickering and colorful lines that could be the visions one has while falling asleep as a passenger in a car. Nature is captured as splendid and at times lush - mighty trees, vast stretches of mountain ranges, sunsets, starry nights, vast open lands - a serene contrast to the raw human emotions. Perhaps these inclusive shots of the natural world put everything into perspective.
Here is a link to the trailer: https://youtu.be/DRKEHT263gI
“Nostalgia” opens in downtown Albuquerque on March 2nd at Cinemark’s Century 14, 100 Central Ave SE. You can call (505) 243-9555 for information or check out the website: https://www.cinemark.com/new-mexico/century-14-downtown-albuquerque