BAM CinemaFest Reviews
JUNE 17 (BAM CINEMAFEST)
‘Where is Kyra’ (2017) B-
When committing to an authentic depiction a life lived in desperation and hopelessness, how thoroughly can you strip away any semblance of light or hope without punishing the viewer? It’s not clear if that question ever crossed Andrew Dosunmu’s mind while making Where is Kyra?, his gorgeous, daunting and draining follow-up to the vibrant, conflicted marital drama of Mother of George. Committed as ever to revealing life on the New York fringes to those who’d rather shield themselves from others’ suffering, some viewers may feel their admiration of Dosunmu’s work wilting into distress as they watch an aging, neglected Michelle Pfeiffer plummet into demeaning obscurity. An empathetic wake up call to the New York elites who can afford to behold it, for viewers who are similarly struggling to maintain their dignity in working class America, Where is Kyra? may simply add up to a suffocating nightmare.
Things are already bleak on the outset of Where is Kyra?, as a trembling, elderly lady slowly lumbers across the frame, unnoticed and ignored by everyone she passes. Back home, we discover life’s perhaps even less forgiving for her daughter and caretaker Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer, petrifying in slim black eye-liner). Recently divorced and still struggling to find employment in the crushing enormity of New York, her lone saving grace is her pension-approved mother, who’s slowly decaying within the dark, gloomy amber enclosures of her apartment. In a jarring establishing shot, we’re introduced to Kyra and her mother, Ruth, in maximum obscurity, only slight slivers of their bodies visible between the cracked doors of their apartment. Even before her mother’s inevitable passing, Kyra is already just as neglected.
Aside from the burgeoning interest of Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), Kyra’s social and business prospects descend ever more quickly once Ruth moves on to, surely, a better place. One humiliating application slip-up after another, every reasonable job opportunity flits out of her grasp. All the while, editor Oriana Soddu brings us repeatedly back to the film’s opening motif, of Kyra’s mother, covered and withered, slowly, excruciatingly making her way across the screen. What seemingly starts as an oppressive omen of the vagabond lifestyle awaiting Kyra eventually reveals itself to be, shockingly, an even more depressing, demeaning future for our crumbling lead. As majestically shot by recent Oscar nominee Bradford Young (Arrival), Brooklyn is a dank, dingy purgatory, draining its inhabitants of every ounce of life, love and dignity they have left.
There’s hardly a dash of levity in Dosunmu’s film, the only fleeting moment of joy, Kyra jump-roping at an apartment complex gathering, being solemnly slowed into a kind of wrenching elegy for the last moments of happiness one feels in their life. Even at 98 minutes, Where is Kyra crawls dourly along with the pace and discipline of a Romanian New Wave film. If there’s any joy to be derived from this crushing experience, it’s in once again getting to watch Michelle Pfeiffer stunningly persevere onscreen. While her face and body may be devastatingly obscured for most of the film, she gets two shining moments, both dark and demanding long takes. Whether she’s explaining how her search has brought her low or we simply see it on her broken, deadening face, Pfeiffer holds our fascination through the musty thicket of Dosunmu’s commanding, if insurmountably challenging, latest.
By Lena Houst | FILM MISERY
A Pfeiffer Portrait of Devastating Despair
The year of Michelle Pfeiffer continues. We’ve seen the trailer and pictures from Murder on the Orient Express. We’ve seen the poster for mother! (sacrilege she’s not on it). We’ve seen her on HBO as Ruth Madoff. And now her Sundance film, Where is Kyra?, made its way to Brooklyn and played at BAMCinemaFest last weekend.
Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George) collaborates once again with Bradford Young to gorgeous results. This time Pfeiffer’s transfixing visage supplements their beautiful frames with movie star magic…
The story follows Kyra, a 50-something out of work recent divorcee who’s falling into a pit of hopelessness. She can’t find work and her elderly mother, on whose pension she relies, suddenly dies. She meets another person trying to stay afloat (Kiefer Sutherland) and even genuine affection and companionship does not seem to help either of them. It’s a devastating story of utter despair and the crazy choices it forces on Kyra.
Dosunmu said that he was inspired by Cindy Sherman, and every frame is a tableau come to sumptuous life. And in Pfeiffer’s face he’s found the perfect vessel. Whole scenes play just on her face even when other actors are present in the scene. It’s intimate yet unsettling because of the melancholic story. I was the beat up little seagull watching this. It was hard to watch because Pfeiffer makes one root hard for Kyra even as she makes one disastrous choice after another. The film hits close to home. We could all become Kyra, suddenly too old to find employment. So I was grateful for the one homage to Pfeiffer’s stardom, a slo-mo scene of her joyfully jumping rope with a few kids.
Unfortunately the film does not have a US distributor yet. We can understand why. This is the type of movie that luxuriates in the ritual of preparing a bath and devotes many minutes to taking it in. But come on, it’s Pfeiffer. It’s Pfeiffer in almost every frame. It can be marketed just as that. Many will be there opening weekend for her. Don’t deny us this movie, money people.
By Murtada | the FILM EXPERIENCE
Where is Kyra? at BAM Cinemafest
I cannot get the film Where is Kyra? out of my mind. I saw it on Saturday night as part of the BAM Cinemafest programme, and it had been one of the films I wanted to see at Sundance earlier this year, but just couldn’t make the scheduling work out. I’m learning more and more that things happen when they need to, so it seemed like Saturday’s screening was the right time to catch the film.
I went with my friend Mathoto Matsetela, who was once an actress in Yizo Yizo, the critically-acclaimed youth drama series Andrew Dosunmu used to direct when he was in South Africa. The Nigerian-born director has since then cemented his reputation, based here in the US, with Restless City and Mother of George – films that paint vivid portraits of identity and desperation, through his fruitful collaboration with cinematographer Bradford Young. For Where is Kyra? Dosunmu re-teamed with both Young and South African composer Philip Miller, who consistently adds his voice to some of the best films coming out of the country.
I think that’s part of the reason I can’t seem to get the film out of my mind – the music and the images left their mark on me. The sharp, staccato audio illustrations of the lead character’s state of mind, combined with the bleak yet striking way her world is visually composed in the film made quite the impression. It’s the story of a woman in her 50s who returns home to New York to look after her ailing mother, but cannot find a job to survive and is pushed to an utter extreme out of her despair. Michelle Pfeiffer is excellent in this role – Dosunmu told us later it was her first indie part, and they shot the film in 17 days. She gives it so much, immersing herself into a woman, past her so-called prime, whose face has etched into it memories of being married and employed and part of the normal running of life, who now just doesn’t know what to do.
As we go along with Kyra’s job search and the half-hearted relationship that’s unfolding with holding-down-two-jobs Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), we see what it’s like to age in a city that requires non-stop energy to keep going. Dosunmu said he wanted to ask what it’s like to grow old here, in a society where people don’t really honour their elders, and many of them end up being kept pretty much out of sight. It made me think of the old people I see on the streets of NYC, slowly pushing their shopping carts or hobbling from one corner to another. Dosunmu spoke about the cultural differences in how the elderly are perceived in Nigeria, where aging is celebrated, versus what he’s come to see here in the US.
There’s another reason the film struck such a chord. It’s because I’ve come so close to that desperation that I saw in Kyra’s – Pfeiffer’s – eyes. Living in this city, where I’m a freelancer subject to the whims of whenever people see fit to pay my invoices has put me in many a tough financial situation, and it’s a terrible feeling. I’ve never had to resort to Pfeiffer’s methods but she and Dosunmu touch that nerve so closely that it’s unsettling. Luckily, I still have enough energy to keep bouncing from my setbacks. Dosumnu’s film will no doubt inspire empathy and a little more compassion towards those who perhaps don’t.