By: Martin Hafer
Well made…and incredibly hard to watch.
I had a more difficult time writing this review than I ever expected. Much of this is because I have really loved some of the writer/director Mahmoud Shoolizadeh’s films, especially the multi-award winning Daddy. However, when it comes to his latest movie, Susan, I have very mixed feeling. On one hand, it addresses issues most filmmakers are afraid or unwilling to talk about in their films. But, on the other, the film is an emotional rollercoaster that is often unpleasant and very difficult to watch.
When the story begins, Susan is an emotional wreck. Her husband was serving in the military and she just received word he is dead. Soon, her daughter is killed by a distracted driver and, not surprisingly, Susan is a complete mess and barely able to function. She goes to a local vicar for advice…but all he seems to offer are familiar platitudes. Then, out of the blue, her husband arrives on their doorstep….and apparently he was not killed in action after all. While you might think this would be a marvelous thing, soon it becomes apparently that he is a badly damaged man…barely able to function and not at all the man he used to be.
During the course of the story, Susan cries and cries and cries and I marveled how Jennifer Preston was able to cry so realistically and effectively. It’s a case of marvelous acting…but it’s also gut-wrenching and incredibly hard to watch. And, unlike most directors, Shoolizadeh deliberately keeps the focus on this pain and does not flinch from it. As a result, it’s one of the most painful movies I’ve ever seen. Susan is running in film festivals now…and this sort of emotional rollercoaster is the sort of things the festivals generally love. But, as for the average viewer, it’s a very hard sell getting people to watch such realistic depictions of misery.
In addition to the film being able to portray pain so effectively, the movie also excels when it comes to its musical score. It’s among the best I can recall hearing in recent years and is perfect for the mood the film is trying to present. However, on the downside, in addition to the difficulty folks might have in watching it, the film could use a bit of trimming (such as eliminating the subplot about the daughter) and it also provides no answers at all for how to deal with PTSD, homelessness and depression…none. It exposes the problems…but leaves the audiences to figure all this out for themselves. Worth seeing…but it’s not an easy movie to explain or even understand.