If Judge Mitchell Hattaway were a Hollywood exec, he wouldn't pick that title. After all, it only allows room for six sequels!
When you have nothing to do, every day is Sunday.
I finally got my hands on a good film. Can you believe it?
Facts of the Case
Madeleine (Lisa Harrow, The Last Days of Chez Nous) is a middle-aged, soon-to-be-divorced, classically trained actress who has been reduced to auditioning for roles in low-budget sci-fi/horror films. Oliver (David Suchet, Poirot: Death on the Nile) is a former IBM technician who has lost his job, his wife, and his house. One Sunday morning Oliver leaves the homeless shelter in which he now spends his nights, embarks on one of his daily treks through the streets of Queens, and is accosted by Madeleine, who mistakes him for Matthew Delacorata, a famous film director. Taken aback by the forcefulness of her belief that he really is Delacorta, Oliver chooses not to reveal his true identity to Madeleine. She invites him to breakfast, and they end up spending the next 13 hours together…and that's all I'm going to say, as you're better off experiencing the rest of this story for yourself.
Sunday is an exceptionally well-written and brilliantly acted drama. Writer/Director Jonathan Nossiter (Signs & Wonders) and co-writer James Lasdun (author of "Ate, Menos, or The Miracle," the short story on which the film is based) have crafted a powerful, deeply affecting film about human identity and the need to connect. This film won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Film as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, both of which were well-deserved honors.
The film opens in the homeless shelter, as the men who spend their nights there go about their morning rituals before heading out into the city (the rules of the shelter require the men to be out by seven in the morning and in by eight at night). There's a sense of camaraderie among the men, although it's obvious right off the bat that many of them dislike Oliver, which helps explain, at least partially, why he chooses not to correct Madeleine's mistake. (Nossiter and Lasdun did a good bit of research into the lives of the homeless. The director voluntarily spent many nights sleeping in a shelter while prepping the film, and Lasdun's volunteer work in such a shelter helped provide the impetus for his original story.) At the same time, Madeleine and her estranged husband are both jockeying for the affections of their adopted daughter, which helps provide an understanding of her desperate attempts to find someone—anyone—to whom she can relate. Oliver and Madeleine are essentially variations on a theme: Both have lost their families and their livelihoods, both find themselves living in their own personal versions of hell (Madeleine says she was dragged from her native England to Queens by her husband, although there's a little more to it than that), and both feel as though they've been cut loose and cast adrift.
I think Oliver's actions would be entirely reprehensible were it not for the fact that Madeleine herself sometimes appears to be a willing—and possibly witting—participant in his ruse. There's evidence that she knows Oliver isn't Matthew, and, according to how you choose to read certain items in her home (for example, all those dead potted palms) or how much you're willing to take her husband at his word (for example, his references to her "upstairs days"), evidence that this isn't the first time she's confronted a "stranger" in such a manner. Nossiter and Lasdun also choose to contrast Oliver and Madeleine's excursions with the daily routines of the other men from the shelter, which helps shed more light on some of the reasoning behind Oliver's decisions. (While I can certainly see the reasons behind his decisions, part of me still feels that his decisions aren't completely justifiable, regardless of Madeleine's involvement. Then again, I've never found myself in such dire straits, so I don't know exactly to what lengths a person in such a situation would be driven.)
As I mentioned earlier, the acting and writing in Sunday are exceptional; they're easily the film's greatest assets. I was very impressed by the ambiguities and nuance Nossiter and Lasdun injected into both the characters and dialogue. They also manage, rather deftly I might add, to mix the strengths of the written word with the strengths of visual storytelling. The performances are flawless, from the two leads on down to the mix of professional, semi-professional, and amateur supporting members. Every role is perfectly cast. I could drone on and on about how truly great the acting is, but I won't, as (at the risk of repeating myself) you're better off just taking my word for it and experiencing (and enjoying) it for yourself.
The budget for Sunday was almost nil, and this is reflected in the look of the film. There's an intentionally gritty, grainy visual scheme, which actually serves to help the storytelling, bringing a documentary feel to many scenes, especially those taking place in the homeless shelter. The disc's transfer captures this look, although there are two things that really bug me about the video presentation. First, the source elements weren't of the best quality, as is evidenced by several nicks and scratches as well as some dirt and other blemishes. Also, it appears the film was meant to be presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio or, at the most, 1.66:1, although here it has been matted to 1.85:1. As a result, several of the names in the opening credits have been cut off by the mattes. It's not a real problem in terms of image loss during the body of the film, but it seems to me somebody should have noticed. The audio is presented in a subdued Dolby stereo mix, which is perfectly fine given the dialogue-heavy nature of the film, although there are too many moments when the dialogue becomes muddled and slightly unintelligible. Extras include an audio commentary from director Jonathan Nossiter, which starts out fine, but Nossiter quickly runs out of things to say, leaving a lot of dead air in the last half of the track. Also included is Searching for Arthur, Nossiter's short film about/interview with Bonnie and Clyde director Arthur Penn. This is a rather nice piece of work (the last six or seven minutes are absolutely fascinating), although it's hampered by its short running time and lack of footage from Penn's films. Rounding out the package is a small selection of trailers for other Lions Gate releases.
It's certainly not for everyone, but those of you who are interested should definitely seek out Sunday. My issues with the transfer and mix won't allow to me suggest an outright purchase, but it's certainly worthy of a rental.
Everyone involved with the production of the film is free to go, but someone's going to have to answer for the shoddy audio and video quality. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Jonathan Nossiter
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