Edinburgh International Film Festival Reviews
JUNE 22 & 24 (EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL)
Where Is Kyra? (2017) Film Review
It’s interesting to talk about Where Is Kyra? in the light of the recent debate regarding the optimum ‘size’ a film should be watched at, sparked by Dunkirk. While I would argue that good cinema almost always overcomes the limitations of smaller screens – still a fact of life for many living in rural areas, for example – there is no doubt that some gain an extra benefit from being seen on as large a screen as possible, with movies such as Blade Runner springing to mind. Often independent films, with their preponderance of ‘smaller’ more domestic settings and character studies, are viewed as those that lose the least on transferal to a smaller screen. Which brings me back to Andrew Dosunmu’s Where Is Kyra? – a character study that although concerned with a domestic story and mostly shot within confined settings, will be best enjoyed on the biggest screen you can get to see it on.
This is not just because this is, literally, a dark film, with Kyra most frequently glimpsed in shadow or in the dreich half-light of rainy New York, but also because Dosunmu – who has a long career as a photographer – chooses his framing shots with extreme care. It’s a skill in evidence from the start of the film, when he uses a mirror to simultaneously reveal what is happening in two different rooms of an apartment. In one, Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) is pouring a bath for her ageing and infirm mum Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), whom we can see in the other. It immediately absorbs us in the day-to-day lives of these women and also intimates that they have come, in some ways, to function as two halves of a whole.
Kyra is down on her luck, having left a job and a marriage behind her, pouring all her energy into looking after her mum and relying on Ruth’s pension to get by, the pair of leaving behind the comforting whisper of Ruth’s oxygen mask in her apartment to haltingly make their way to the local bank, accompanied by the click of Ruth’s walking stick. It may not be idyllic, but it’s something, until the day Ruth dies.
Kyra, in a sense, watches her mum vanish, knowing full well that despite the bright yellow coat she often wears, she too has begun to fade in the attention of the world around her. Dosunmu and cinematographer Bradford Young are ruthless with the camera; although we often only glimpse Kyra, this is a raw and gutsy performance by Pfeiffer – who has been away too long from our screens – with every wrinkle accentuated by the shadows. There is a steel to her desperation but also the weariness of worry and fear of loneliness. The colours, like that coat, only serve to show Kyra in even paler relief, her invisibility coming to offer a welcoming cloak as she hatches a plan to avoid destitution.
Dosunmu keeps the atmosphere oppressive, the jazzy, often discordant score, from Philip Miller, adding to the sense of pain and constant near-panic that is experienced by many struggling with debt. Hopefulness – or at the very least lukewarm comfort – is offered by Doug (Kiefer Sutherland, in a much more blue collar role than we’re used to, but excellent as ever). He’s a middle-aged guy in her apartment block, who is holding down multiple jobs to keep his head above water and who is probably the only person in the film who truly ‘sees’ the other, carefree Kyra, beneath the weight of what she has become.
This is life on a knife-edge and it cuts accordingly.
By Amber Wilkinson | Eye For Film
Edinburgh 2017: Where is Kyra? review
Michelle Pfeiffer delivers one of her best performance in years in Where is Kyra?, director Andrew Dosunmu’s follow-up to Mother of George. It’s a dark, often suffocating character study that revels in misery, barely a hint of levity in sight as a woman spirals into desperation.
Pfeiffer plays Kyra, who lives in a pokey flat in New York City with her ill mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd), where they barely exist considering Kyra has been out of work for two years, ever since her marriage ended and she was forced to move back from Virginia. And then Ruth dies, and Kyra, driven by heartache and mounting bills, steeps to new levels of desperation (first in scraping change for wherever possible to committing fraud), all the while developing a relationship with Doug (Keifer Sutherland), who has his own demons to keep under control.
Dosunmu has crafted bleak film about what’s it like to lose everything and not know which way to turn. At one point, Kyra is driven back to Virginia to her ex-husband’s doorstep, begging for any money he can spare, despite the fact he’s now shacked up with another woman and a baby on the way. It’s heartbreaking at times, but also oppressive. There’s darkness around every corner, which takes it toll, making for a film that becomes difficult to engage with on a personal level. Kyra’s struggle is real, but Pfeiffer in the role doesn’t make it wholly convincing, no matter how much she ploughs into the role. For much of the film, she plays dress up, disguised as someone else, but the level of hopelessness Kyra is supposed to be feeling never entirely translates.
But considering she’s been fairly absent from the screen in recent years, it’s a role that displays exactly what Pfeiffer can do. Even if you can’t fully appreciate the plight of her character, there’s no denying her talents, and the small moments of joy come down to her incredible range.Sutherland is also on form her as a man plagued by his own mistakes, the toxic levels Kyra plunges to threatening not only to ruin her chance of a future, but also increasing the chance of ruining what he’s built up since losing everything himself.
Dosunmu recruits Mother of George cinematographer Bradford Young, whose take on New York City presents something different from the usual. It’s seen here as a dark, unforgiving city, the tight close ups trapping Kyra in her own disparity. It’s interesting to see this juxtaposed by the colours she wears, for example the yellow coat, which she latches onto as if it’s her last piece of the successful life she used to had, and so wants back. It may wear too heavy, and not reach the level of empathy from the audience that it’s aiming for, but Where is Kyra? is undeniably stirring and a welcome to return – if not quite a full return to form – for Pfeiffer.
By Jamie Neish | CINEVUE
Michelle Pfeiffer plays against type in this compelling drama
Where Is Kyra? marks Michelle Pfeiffer’s return to the screen since the 2013 crime comedy The Family in what is the most unlikely role of her almost forty-year long career. She plays Kyra, an unemployed divorcee who looks after her elderly mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd). However, when Ruth dies, Kyra is unable to pay the rent for the apartment she shared with her. The film follows her desperate attempts to find the money required whilst having almost no one to turn to except Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), a sympathetic part-time taxi driver.
Pfeiffer completely convinces as Kyra, effectively conveying the character’s desperation as she fruitlessly trawls shops and restaurants in search of a menial job that will provide at least some money. There is no sense of any Hollywood-style glamour in her performance, with Pfeiffer breaking down into uncontrollable sobs at her mother’s funeral and later handing out leaflets in the pouring rain as well as begging for a loan from her ex-husband. This results in Pfeiffer’s most raw and emotional performance to date, far exceeding the vulnerability she shows in films such as Scarface and Batman Returns. Similarly, Sutherland is also believable as Doug who, like Kyra, has also fallen on hard times with an estranged daughter on the other side of the country, but who manages to maintain his dignity until he becomes involved in one of Kyra’s schemes that draws the attention of the police. Both actors disappear completely into their roles and makes their struggles identifiable, preventing their previous roles and star status from distracting from their performances.
Director Dosunmu portrays Kyra and Doug’s lonely, unforgiving New York home through a use of foreboding shadows and muted, at times almost monochrome, color grading. This staging becomes particularly effective at the film’s climax, where Kyra’s attempts to evade the police using a disguise could come across in the wrong hands as a farcical situation from a Pink Panther film but instead becomes an intense sequence with little to no humour. Dosunmu’s bleak mise-en-scene is aided by Philip Miller’s discordant score, which underlines the mounting chaos and instability of Kyra’s situation and provides this small character-based drama with the unsettling atmosphere of films such as Under The Skin.
Where Is Kyra? is an atmospheric drama showing one woman’s gradual loss of control that features Michelle Pfeiffer’s strongest performance to date.
By Adam Thornton | the wee review
Where is Kyra? (2017) 6/6
A lonely middle aged woman struggles to survive in New York after the death of her dependant mother. The cinematography immediately impacts the film with a sensational use of doorways, mirrors, shadows and sight lines to close in and isolate the lead Kyra, the lingering shots and dark colour palettes symbols of her fading life. Pfeiffer is mesmerising as Kyra, putting in an excellent nuanced performance. The soundscape is incredible with a bold use of music and glaring surreal sound effects. A stunningly executed and important study into the way society isolates women of a certain age.
EdFilmFest: Where is Kyra? Review
There are so many exciting aspects about Where is Kyra? A rising star director in Andrew Dosunmu. Michelle Pfeiffer’s first role in four years, and a serious one at that. The cinematographer is Bradford Young, fresh from his well-deserved Oscar and BAFTA nominations for the exceptional Arrival. All these components should come together to make one hell of a film. 1+1+1=5 right? Wrong, but they certainly come close.
This is, hands down, one of the most gorgeous films of the year, or any year. Young doesn’t just work with frames within frames, he works with openings in those frames within frames. It’s spectacular, and it’s not just an aesthetic gimmick, it fits the film perfectly. Particularly early on as the titular Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) looks after her dying mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) in Ruth’s apartment in Brooklyn. The opening shot is divided into three sections where we can see the mother’s room, the bathroom and the reflection of more space in a mirror. The ballet of movement which takes place within this static scene is utterly mesmerising.
There is a rich depth to the photography, the contrast, shading and mix of fragmented frames or, frames, with lots of empty space creates a hypnotic beauty of even the most tragic of images.
Kyra’s story is indeed tragic. Divorced and jobless, she has moved from Virginia back to Brooklyn to look after her ailing mother. When Ruth suddenly passes, Kyra finds herself without an income and resorts, with much regret, to impersonating her mother to receive her social security cheques. Though she has sunk to such depths there is some hope in her new relationship with Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), whose own chequered past seems to offer her an empathy and kinship.
Sutherland is on good form here, lending Doug an emotional reality, sympathy but not without limits, but Pfeiffer is the real star of the show. Kyra is an ambiguous character, at once deserving of sympathy but not above contempt, she knows what she is doing is wrong but struggles to break free from the pattern. Pfeiffer conveys an air of quiet determination yet Kyra is utterly helpless, this is the kind of role she has been waiting for, one she can use to showcase her abilities.
The scene of Ruth’s death is where the Pfeiffer’s performance and Young’s masterful cinematography come together to become a shining example of the essence of cinema. A quiet moment, Pfeiffer reacts to the death in a long, gradually tightening shot. She subtly alters her expression, breathing and posture as the revelations being to pour down on her.
Yet the mundane brilliance and palpable tension of Kyra’s existence is eventually turned into a sort of melodrama, unbefitting the film, disturbing the tranquil waters. The longer her impersonation attempts go on, the less intense the fear and the more absurd they become. It seems like an unnecessarily long plot arc to get to a climactic finale, out of sorts with the slow, building sorrow of her situation.
So, a third act that threatens to undo much of the early work, isn’t enough to ruin a film, it is still an impressive piece of filmmaking. Perhaps it doesn’t quite add up to more than the sum of its parts, but it certainly equals them, and considering this is Dosunmu’s second feature, offers promise.
By Jonathan Glen | front row reviews
EIFF Film review: Where is Kyra?
Following a four-year hiatus, Michelle Pfeiffer makes her acting return taking the titular role in Andrew Dosunmu’s slow-burning drama Where is Kyra? Poverty-stricken Kyra lives in Brooklyn with her elderly ailing mother Ruth (Suzanne Shepherd) and struggles to make ends meet as she hunts for a job. After suffering a loss, she drowns her sorrows in the local drinking den where she meets lowly caretaker Doug (Kiefer Sutherland). The pair make a connection, bonding over their hardship, but Kyra’s desperate need for cash soon leads her to take a treacherous risk.
There is a strong, visually arresting style that comes from acclaimed cinematographer Bradford Young’s striking aesthetics, most of the interior shots lit only by lamps to give a melancholy atmosphere that compliments the bleak subject matter. Philip Miller’s score is equally as experimental and goes into an otherworldly overdrive with strange screeching sounds as Kyra’s despair gradually intensifies. These showy filmmaking techniques distract from the paper-thin plot for a while, but the narrative’s painfully meandering pace unfortunately becomes boring and repetitive pretty quickly.
Pfeiffer is well cast as the lead, sporting a harsh and hardened exterior that works as a mask against her inner trauma, and she and Sutherland both make the most of the minimalistic material and sparse dialogue they have to work with. However, the experienced performances can only carry Where is Kyra? so far and there just isn’t enough of a story to captivate throughout.
By Garry Arnot | CinePerspective