Walter, this is a film (released yesterday in Winnipeg) you should have been able to watch first - it’s filmed in New Brunswick (St. Martins) and is based on a true story about an old (late eighties) couple in St. Martins who fought against the local authorities in an attempt to build a small house on their land. Apparently it was big news in the Telegraph Journal, so maybe you read about it.
Specifically, Still Mine tells the story of Craig Morrison (played by James Cromwell), a long-retired lumber man (he has his own sawmill) who wants to build a house where he and his wife can spend their final days together. His wife, Irene (played by Genevieve Bujold), is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, with memory problems that grow worse as the film (which covers a two-year period) goes on. When she falls down the stairs, Craig knows the new house is the only future he and Irene have together (though his seven children are not so sure).
Unfortunately, building a house, even on your own property, requires permits and a ton of paperwork and inspections. If you’re not a builder, this can be daunting, and Craig does not have the patience for it, especially since he is an excellent builder using top-notch materials. Though his work exceeds the standards being measured by all the codes, he does not follow the rules and finds himself in front of a judge for defying a stop-work order and for 26 code violations. That’s sort of where the film starts, but also where it ends.
Still Mine was written and directed by Michael McGowan. He tells the story in a remarkably understated way, which worked very well for me. The dialogue could use some improvement, but Cromwell’s acting is good enough to overcome that flaw and he gives us a solid feel for all the mixed emotions Craig experiences during those tumultuous two years. Bujold and the other Canadian actors provide excellent support, with Campbell Scott a good choice for the lawyer trying to help (without much success). The cinematography is outstanding. The score is rarely used or needed but it is effective.
Still Mine cannot avoid comparisons with Amour, the winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (see review below). Like Amour, Still Mine is the story of an old man coming to terms with living with a woman, his lifelong companion, who is losing her hold on the world around her. Both stories are told with a minimum of sentimentality. Both films are quiet and understated. Both films feature a strong loving relationship and the involvement of children. In terms of pure filmmaking, Still Mine can’t compete with Haneke’s masterpiece. And yet I think I enjoyed Still Mine more than Amour. It certainly engaged me more on an emotional level. And maybe I was connecting to the rural New Brunswick setting which was my home for eight years.
I am giving Still Mine a solid ***+. My mug is up.