A grieving woman learns to let go of everything in November
Sophie, Courteney Cox's character in the low-budget indie November, is having trouble letting go - of what, the viewer must decide. Reviewers have posed various solutions to the film's fractured, Memento-like puzzle: one suggests that the movie is just an experiment in cinematography and narrative with three different endings, a failed Lynchian psychological thriller. A New York Times reviewer concludes that the story's middle section reveals the truth: Sophie feels guilty. But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'd like to suggest that a deeper mystery motivated November's (relatively) young director and screenwriter.
|Courteney Cox plays Sophie, a woman who can't escape the memory of her boyfriend's recent murder, in November.|
First, the facts: We know that Sophie's boyfriend, Hugh, was murdered on November 7 in a convenience-store holdup while Sophie waited outside in the car. We know that Sophie is a photography teacher at a local college.
Second, things that may or may not be true: Sophie was having an affair with a student and, when she confessed to Hugh, he moved out of their apartment. There are mysterious photographic images of the crime scene that variously place Sophie outside the store looking in at the moment of the shooting, or in the aisles, taking artsy photos of bottles and candy racks. To unravel the clues, the viewer must wade through three versions of the tale titled after three of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' stages of dying: Depression, Denial, and Acceptance. In each, Sophie has four key experiences, one of which involves her students, to whom she imparts the advice that what is left out of the frame is just as important as what is captured. In another replayed scene, Sophie visits a psychiatrist to discuss her feelings of guilt and loss. In a third, she shares a meal with her mother, who needles and irritates her to distraction.
Dir. Greg Harrison; writ. Benjamin Brand; feat. Courteney Cox, James LeGros, Michael Ealy, Nora Dunn, Nick Offerman, Anne Archer (R)
Each successive retelling occurs in brighter hues than the previous, suggesting a healing process, but mysterious occurrences - loud thumps from a neighboring apartment that knock down a significant photo of Hugh, more images that implicate Sophie in something greater than an aborted affair - grow increasingly disturbing, and gripping. They come to a head when Sophie, trying to rehang the pivotal photo, punches a hole in the apartment wall and finds a photocopied news story about the shooting, without an ending. An academic by nature, she heads to the library to track down the remainder of the article but finds the microfiche missing, by which point the viewer should be wondering why, if it's Hugh's death Sophie can't accept, she repeatedly revisits his confrontation with the gunman. November, a chilly month when crops are long ploughed-under and when pagans believe the curtain between dead and living is more porous than usual, becomes the setting for a movie that owes more to Jacob's Ladder - the tale of a Vietnam Vet suffering from enigmatic flashbacks and aided by an angelic chiropractor - than to neo-noir or the Lynch oeuvre.
The filmmakers use a light hand with the special effects that suggest Sophie's state of extreme disorientation and distress, so it's possible to settle in and relate to Cox's character on an emotional level. James LeGros, as Hugh, is likable but wooden, and although the story isn't really about him, his awkwardness sometimes jars what is otherwise a quirky, capable little meditation on saying goodbye for the last time. The verdict: November is an imperfect film, but it's well worth 73 minutes of your life to ponder how you would walk in Sophie's shoes. •
By Elaine Wolff