“A touching story of the frailty and inexplicable perseverance of the human condition.”
Writer-director Olivier Bernier‘s THE SUNSET SKY (2015) is a very complete, coming-to-age film about a troubled young woman, Jennifer (Caitlin Brown), who becomes the reluctant caretaker of her autistic brother, Charlie (Joel Brady), after the death of their mother. The two are forced to leave everything they knew behind to journey through the back roads of the Midwest to New Jersey, where it is the intention of Jennifer to abandon Charlie, with the father he has never met. During which they experience a series of dangerously complex, life-threatening events. At first, it was almost too easy to give up on the immediate familiarities of their story–where the primary caregiver dies, and the older sibling is forced unwillingly to support a family. However, there is uniqueness within the narrative that validates these very broken human beings–and it seems that a tragedy regardless of origin compels viewers on an emotional level, where the subject of human frailty is an all too common theme.
Jennifer is desperate to rid herself of her brother, Charlie. Not because she does not care for him, but because of the tremendous responsibility of caring for anyone, much less herself. Their experiences on the road mimic her irresponsibilities–she quickly runs out of money, and the only means of financially supporting themselves is to commit petty theft, as their situation intensifies, and revealed through a series of flashbacks does serve to magnify an already thwarted sense of freedom.
The acting performances are astounding. Brown as “Jennifer” seamlessly conveys her character’s vulnerabilities–and able to emotionally fluctuate being a decisive adult, to a persona of strangeness and secrecy–her mind wanders and drifts off. You see that she is wounded, and you will sense the magnitude of her increasing responsibilities. Brady as “Charlie,” an autistic adult succeeds in demonstrating the unique challenges and difficulties of a person with autism. He’s able to convey his character’s burden and stressors within the environment and in the situations, he is part of, and able to “stand out” brilliantly, as he emotionally unravels himself during difficult scenes–specifically, when “Jennifer,” tells him that he’s not going back home again.
There are instances where the driving scenes would go on a bit long, and in another, during one of the scenes at a gas station, a “bible thumper” lectures Jennifer on her brother’s ill manners, with Jennifer having to explain that her brother has autism. There were a few times where her character would repeat lines in scenes to demonstrate the immaturities and indecisiveness about her character, however, weren’t necessary. The film cinematics is engaging and features expansive backdrops and townships of the rural Midwest.
In the end, Bernier’s “Sky” is an evocative narrative about how a young woman’s attempts to reconcile her abusive past and at the same time, try to save herself and her brother, literally, from drowning.
Written and Directed by Olivier Bernier
Produced by: Kevin Janke
Cinematography by: Mark Koenig
Music by: Austin Wintory
Art and supplementary materials courtesy ©2016 of Olivier Bernier, ROTA6, and Finitemedia. All rights are reserved.