***** out of *****
There is plenty of drama in the directorial debut from noted producing brothers Jedd and Todd Wider, but make no mistake, this is a documentary.
There is a deep mystery that unfurls in God Knows Where I Am – sometimes scary, often creepy, but eventually giving way to something much deeper than the surface details. Like most evocative whodunits, the picture becomes a whydunit and exposes, not unlike great film noir (and modern neo-noir), something far more desperate and downright insidious. There is plenty of drama, but make no mistake, this is a documentary.
Sadly, too many filmmakers forget about the power of poetry in cinema. This is especially endemic in documentary work that’s limited to imparting facts, and/or becomes so wrapped up in ‘story’ (demanded by narrow, vision-bereft commissioning editors) that no matter how proficient the films are about the issue and/or subject matter at the centre of the work, they are ultimately bereft of genuine artistry.
There is no such problem plaguing God Knows Where I Am. The picture is an absolute heartbreaker and a good deal of its success is directly attributable to its pace, style and structure, which yields a film infused with all the qualities of the sublime. I challenge anyone to not weep profusely at several points within its elegiac 99-minute running time.
The picture reimagines the last weeks of Linda Bishop, an intelligent, sensitive middle-aged woman found dead in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse. Existing only on rainwater and apples from a bountiful tree, she felt trapped by dangers which threatened and frightened her to such a degree that she was unable to leave the comfort and shelter afforded to her by this lonely enclave. Eventually, as the apples ran out and the unheated house was battered by one of the coldest winters on record, comfort gave way to agony and agony gave way to grace.
Directors Todd and Jedd Wilder have constructed their film using a seemingly endless series of gorgeously composed and lit shots (gloriously mastered on FILM by cinematographer Gerardo Puglia), with many of the dolly and tracking shots moving with the kind of slow beauty Vilmos Zsigmond employed in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. These haunting images, many of which are so stunning they’ll be seared on your soul for a lifetime, are accompanied by off-camera readings from Bishop’s journal by actress Lori (Footloose, Trouble in Mind, Shortcuts) Singer. Singer’s performance here is astonishing – she captures the pain, desperation and even small joys in Bishop’s life during these sad, lonely days with a sensitivity and grace linked wholly to her ‘character’. This is no mere narration or voiceover – this is acting.
The aforementioned sequences are interspersed with actual 8mm home-movie footage of Bishop as a child, who was once bright, happy and full of promise. The filmmakers also wend interviews into the film’s fabric with such figures as Bishop’s adult daughter, various friends and relatives, and a local police detective and medical examiner – all of whom contribute to the mystery that unfolds with spellbinding dexterity.
In addition to the cinematography, the key creative elements in the picture are simply astonishing. Editor Keiko Deguchi creates a gentle, yet always compelling pace that contributes to the poetic nature of the film (and a few dissolves so powerful that each one knocks the wind out of you) while Paul Cantelon, Ivor Guest and Robert Logan have created one of the best scores I’ve heard in any documentary. Elements such as sound, art direction and visual effects are on a par with the best cinema can offer.
This is great cinema and certainly a contender for one of the best documentaries of the new millennium. It captures profound poetic truths about homelessness, mental illness and loneliness, which are rendered with such artistry and sensitivity that this is a film for the ages.
Watch the trailer: