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film review

Jennifer Dale plays Helena, a well-off widow reconsidering past decisions and struggling to move forward.Frantic Films

Into Invisible Light

Directed by: Shelagh Carter

Written by: Shelagh Carter, Jennifer Dale

Starring: Jennifer Dale, Peter Keleghan and Stuart Hughes

Classification: PG/102 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

The softly romantic drama Into Invisible Light is thoughtful, a touch pretentious and extremely well-acted. A meditation on the creative process, self-confidence and second chances, it’s not for kids.

The veteran Canadian actress Jennifer Dale stars in it and co-wrote it. She plays Helena, a well-off recent Winnipeg widow reconsidering past decisions and struggling for purpose moving forward. Her late husband left her in charge of a philanthropic arts foundation. It’s her job to judge grant applicants. She doesn’t feel competent – she diminishes herself. A benefactor, me?

Taken to a gallery by her late husband’s lawyer David (played with nuance by Stuart Hughes), she doesn’t know what to make of a modern art piece. “It’s incomprehensible,” she says with a sigh. “It’s getting a lot of attention,” David replies. “I have no idea what I’m looking at,” she persists. “There’s a lot of energy here," David counters, “don’t you think?” Helena’s not feeling it, and, wait a minute, are they judging the statue or are they judging her?

Into Invisible Light, loosely based on the characters of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, comes from the Winnipeg filmmaker Shelagh Carter. Her previous feature was 2016′s Before Anything You Say, a drama involving marriage and life-altering decisions. Life-altering decisions, that’s what this film is about as well. “Do you ever feel your life just veered off somewhere?” asks Helena, starting to find her feet.

The film moves like a dance, both in flow and in the way characters feel each other out. There’s a lot going on with Michael, a professor, author and candid fellow (Peter Keleghan). Michael and Helena had a relationship more than 25 years ago. They bump into each other by chance. He’s married to a woman (Kari Matchett) who likes to take off on solo trips, leaving husband and young-adult daughter behind.

Michael and Helena quickly pick up a thrust-and-parry rapport established a quarter-century earlier. Helena had thoughts of being a writer herself. Michael was hard on her back then. Still is. He’s “bored by mediocrity” and doesn’t see writing as something that can be a hobby. “I’m turned on by people who can’t not do it,” he tells Helena, as the pair reminisce over regrets and rosé. Both Michael and David are attracted to Helena. They coax her, telling her she can be better than who she’s allowed herself to be. Helena doesn’t necessarily disagree.

The biting dialogue between mature characters is clever, probably overly so. Visually, we flash to impressionistic black-and-white moments. It’s all a bit elevated. The daughter’s story – she’s a fledgling dancer whose brief entry into the modelling world goes weirdly wrong – is concocted, but necessary to tie the overall plot together inelegantly.

Ultimately, Into Invisible Light overcomes its flaws with an artful, classy flair and a finely written character handled gracefully by Dale. Lovely work from her.

Into Invisible Light opens Feb. 1 in Toronto and Winnipeg

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