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EIFF 2018: The Parting Glass (2018) directed by Stephen Moyer

N.B. This film is not on wide release in the UK at present. It is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2018.

A family picks up the pieces

This small-scale drama focuses on the aftermath of the sudden death of a young woman (played by Anna Paquin). Her three siblings (played by Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon and Denis O’Hare), along with their father (played by Ed Asner) and her estranged husband (played by Rhys Ifans), embark on a road trip through wintry Montana to pick up her belongings and the autopsy report. Along the way, they reminisce about her in flashback and attempt to come to terms with the loss.

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A naturalistic study of the grieving process

The act of grieving isn’t simply that of tears being shed. It is also about the appreciation of what the missed loved one brought to your life, about the good times and bad times. It is about the reinforcement of family bonds through a collective emotional rollercoaster. It’s about recrimination, confession and showing one’s humanity in its purest form. The Parting Glass is a rare film in that it depicts the grieving process in such a complex and humanistic manner without resorting to forced sentimentality. Don’t expect the usual trope funeral scene where the family stands in front of a lowering coffin, heads bowed in solemnity.

The characters here come across like how human beings really should. Yes, they do cry at times. However, they also get angry that things haven’t turned out the way in which they had hoped. More surprisingly, they laugh and joke together as a family. A lot. There are even a few moments when you might feel like laughing along with them: a story about the deceased sister watching Night of the Living Dead during a period of her life while she was living above a mortuary is a good example.

Stephen Moyer’s style is very naturalistic and allows the viewer to feel like a fly on the wall as the assembled group chatter and emote. There are also various flashbacks to Moyer’s real-life wife Anna Paquin playing the deceased sister, along with some detective movie-style piecing together of how and why her life ended. There’s much in the way of dramatic tension here but, rather than being spelled out, it is often projected in a subtle and fragmented manner. This may be frustrating to viewers who prefer a clear-cut narrative but others will appreciate the unconventional approach. The main tensions here are those between the deceased biological family members (who banter and joke amongst themselves) and her erstwhile husband (who sometimes feels left out of their circle). There is also some friction between her brother and the husband. This initially seems to be rooted in differing political outlooks on life (the brother is openly in a gay relationship, whereas the husband listens to some evangelical Christian politician spouting right-wing diatribes on his car radio) but is later revealed to run somewhat deeper than that.

The film’s resolution may leave a few threads hanging but, then again, this is quite true to life. Instead, we get a climactic period of calm as the Irish folk song of the title plays over a sequence illuminated by the faint blue dawn sunlight, followed by an iPhone video of the now-deceased sister when she was still alive. It’s a restrained ending which allows us to breathe after all of the emotional fireworks and take everything in.

An impressive big-screen directorial debut.

Runtime: 95 mins

Dir: Stephen Moyer

Script: Denis O’Hare

Starring: Ed Asner, Rhys Ifans, Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Denis O’Hare, Anna Paquin, Paul Gross

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

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