The Manitoba Film Classification Board gave a PG rating to Gravity and Grace, a capital-A Art Film from former University of Winnipeg film instructor Solomon Nagler, along with the following two helpful content warnings:
- Full frontal nudity.
- Scenes may cause children brief anxiety/fear.
But an Art Film, I would suggest, requires different kinds of content warnings to really let the viewer know what they're about to experience.
- Very long, lingering takes.
- Solitary weeping.
- Wilful disregard for conventional narrative.
- Embarrassing male nudity... like, whoa, dude.
- Next to no dialogue.
- Ephemeral references to the works of a long-dead French philosopher.
Nagler, who now lives in Halifax, has made many a short film, but this is his first feature. Such is Nagler's contrarian attitude to conventional Hollywood narrative, the film's official synopsis provides a lot more information than the movie itself.
The first half of the film centres on Hanna (Becca Babcock), a woman who works at the Mission to Seamen. She takes receipt of a gobsmacked-looking ship stowaway (Timothy Dunn) and takes him to her lover Antonia (Agnes Laan) to house in a decommissioned, Cold War-era nuclear fallout bunker. (The so-called Debert bunker is an authentic bomb shelter built in 1962.)
Antonia -- and again, this is from the synopsis, not the film -- is using the facility as an archive dedicated to hagiographic graphology -- the study of the saints through their handwriting.
Hannah, meanwhile, in a gesture of primal sorrow, retires to a cabin in the woods where she is resigned to the latest in a series of miscarriages.
Back at the bunker, the stowaway drifts around the facility with Antonia and Farzaid (Aaron Andreino), a mysterious older gent who walks around in white underwear, sings spirituals in the nude and eats apples, suggesting a lonesome Adam in exile from paradise.
The title and a couple of inter-titles refer obliquely to the work of French philosopher Simone Weil, which makes one consider if the film might be well served by a reading list.
That is not to say there are not pleasures in Gravity and Grace. One may luxuriate in the film's beautiful, wistful compositions by cinematographer Jeff Wheaton, its Antonioni-like depiction of isolation, and its melancholy beauty (augmented by a string score and sound design by Lukas Pearse).
Indeed, Gravity and Grace may ultimately be more appropriate as an art gallery installation than art-house attraction.
Solomon Nagler will introduce all three screenings of Gravity and Grace at Cinematheque.