the media presents Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia in black-and-white
terms of victimhood, but what happens when it strikes a woman who has perhaps
committed some dark crimes in her past? It is a somewhat provocative question,
but it is buried like Pompeii by the lava flow of melodrama in Sharon Greytak’s
Archaeology of a Woman (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
is the sort of filmmaker who is blessed and cursed to be highly regarded by her
artistic and academic peers, but largely unknown to the general movie-going
public. It is therefore tempting to just say Archaeology does not work and leave it at that. However, admirers
of the primary cast-members—Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland (for Yurek Bogayevicz’s
Anna) and Tony Award winner Victoria
Clark (for Light in the Piazza)—will probably
need stronger dissuasion.
is going through a rough patch—rough enough to force her grown daughter Kate to
run interference with the local cops and take control of her finances. As an
up-and-coming chef poised to finally open her own Manhattan restaurant, spending
so much time upstate is a major inconvenience for Kate, but she is the
only family Margaret has left. In fact, there are hints the death of her
husband a few years back was not such a bad thing.
the discovery of a series of body parts dominates the news, Margaret’s grip on
reality grows more tenuous. Clearly, the audience is supposed to wonder if the
grisly reports are jogging her own guilty memories of past crimes or whether
they are simply the fantasies of her fevered mind. The way old Sgt. Calder keeps
lurking about, perhaps it is hoped viewers will also start to suspect she is
somehow involved in the current investigation. However, the only real crime
committed here is the film itself.
this film is an unwieldy mess. When it strives to be an issue-oriented family
drama, Archaeology is far too showy
and self-conscious, featuring some of the most overwrought interior monologue voice-overs
you will ever come across. Likewise, the awkward attempts to trespass into
thriller territory fall thuddingly flat.
their own ways, both Kirkland and Clark deserve credit for the way they remain
so fully committed throughout. In fact, Clark’s smart, earthy portrayal of Kate
is one aspect of the film that wears well over time, while her mounting
frustration with her difficult mother feels quite genuine (maybe because we share
it). In contrast, Kirkland goes all in and then some as Margaret, reveling in
her behavioral extremes. As a commentary on the ravages of age, it is hard to resist
comparing the film and Kirkland’s role to her career-defining performance in Anna, which casts quite a long shadow
A lot of good intentions and artistic courage
went into Archaeology, but they never
come together in a coherent whole. It is likely to attract the attention of
many film studies professors and curators, but they will be disappointed.
Regretfully, not recommended, Archaeology
of a Woman opens this Friday (9/12) in New York at the Village East.
Labels: Sally Kirkland, Sharon Graytak, Victoria Clark