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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Canadian Film Review: Flower and Garnet (2002)

* * * 1/2

Director: Keith Behrman
Starring: Callum Keith Rennie, Jane McGregor, Colin Roberts

Flower and Garnet is one of those rare movies that has the confidence to move at a slow and thoughtful pace, and the content to back up that choice. It presents us with three troubled and damaged characters – a father, his daughter, and his son – and uses its running time simply to observe them, to examine the wounds they share and the wounds they inflict on each other, and watches them as they struggle to put themselves back together. Nothing about this movie feels false or forced. It’s a great achievement.

The son, Garnet, is born into unfortunate circumstances, as complications from the birth end his mother’s life. The loss of his wife is too much for Ed (Callum Keith Rennie), who can’t deal with the baby and leaves him to be cared for by friends until his daughter, Flower, marches over there and claims responsibility for him herself. The film then flashes forward about six years and we see that little has changed. Ed is still distanced from his son and Flower (now played by Jane McGregor) is still the one taking care of him. Garnet (Colin Robberts) is attached to Flower the way that he would be to his mother but, being a teenager, she often runs hot and cold with him, wanting sometimes to have him near and at others to be left alone. Ed has a girlfriend who might step in to take the mother role with Garnet, if only Ed were willing to admit to his kids that they’re dating. He insists that his kids don’t suspect, though she points out that Flower is more than old enough to understand what’s going on, and Garnet later surprises him by asking him a question that makes it clear that he knows that there's more to the relationship than Ed would like to admit.

Garnet’s question, which is equal parts vague and direct and is, specifically, “does what you do when she spends the night hurt?” is prompted by his growing knowledge of Flower’s sexual life and his feeling that he’s losing her to this other and private life which, indeed, he is. Flower becomes pregnant, which has a profound effect on all of the relationships in the family. Ed wants her to have an abortion, which prompts her to move out and in with his now ex-girlfriend. He doesn’t think she’s ready to raise a child, though she quite correctly points out that the burden of raising Garnet has been largely on her and from an earlier scene we know that Ed can’t even be bothered to get Garnet birthday gifts himself. The baby, for Flower, is a means of escape, of forcing Ed to take responsibility for his son. For his part, Garnet feels an incredible sense of loss which he can’t quite put words to, knowing that he’s losing the person who is, arguably, the most important in his life and also scared about what will happen to her when the baby is born. This fear, of course, runs through all three as each is terrified of the idea that Flower will succumb to the same fate as her mother.

The film is really unflinching in its observation of these three people. Ed, prompted by Flower, finally steps up a bit and actually buys Garnet a birthday present himself, horrifying Flower in the process because he buys a BB gun. For the first time, Ed bonds with Garnet as he teaches him how to shoot and Garnet, in his emotional confusion, takes this newfound pride Ed has in him and combines it with the vague sense of helplessness and anger he feels from the rift with Flower to use the BB gun to hurt animals, first killing a bird and then shooting a dog. The performance by young Colin Robberts is really astounding, conveying a great deal simply through facial expressions and body language. I expect that as he grows older, assuming he continues to act, that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with as an actor.

I went into this movie not really knowing much about it beyond the synopsis on the back of the DVD cover, and found myself incredibly moved. It seems like most films about families lately rely heavily on quirk, but the characters in this movie are very real and so are their problems. I strongly recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys quiet little character films.

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