The film ` Maudie’ came to me during the COVID-19 lockdown.
That made a difference.
It is like what happens when after years of consumerism, you are sat in a quiet spot free of such stimuli. First the starkness hits you. Then as the withdrawal symptoms ebb, you grow acquainted with newfound bareness. Later, your adaptation to bare environment authors its own Spartan idiom. You discover how effective the clarity is. Intended or otherwise, that is what I felt taking in this film set in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. It’s was a refreshing idiom, a style gaining popularity as filmmakers search for a distilled simplicity to tell stories effectively in age of mind numbed by excess. The vignettes of hard rural life, the plain dwellings, frames with few people, moments conveyed in full and the spacious landscape alternating between an autumn-look and snow covered world, all add to the idiom’s effectiveness.
The film tells the story of Maud Dowley, who was born with birth defects and developed rheumatoid arthritis that eroded her mobility, particularly her ability to use her hands. You find her living with her aunt Ida. Maud is an awkward young woman with a physical language that hints of withdrawn life and shyness but a quiet demeanor that is as determined as those better born than her. While her personal story unfolds gradually through the twists and turns the narrative takes, what is clarified early on is her wish to take charge of her life instead of having others fit her into the generally accepted patterns of society. At the local store, she overhears Everett Lewis, a fish peddler, seeking a cleaning lady to take care of his house. Maud secures the position in exchange for room and board.
Thus begins an initially rocky but progressively affectionate relationship between the rough fish peddler and the awkward woman, who brings to bear on the man’s life a touch of color with her capacity to paint and a sense of order because she can write and keep accounts. In due course, Maud’s talent for painting – she graduates from simple drawings on the walls of the house to illustrated cards and paintings – becomes the stuff of income for the couple. Thanks to a few patrons and the news of her work spreading thereby, she becomes known. The couple gets married. You also see the role of provider slowly reversing; Maud becomes the busier half, Everett does most of the jobs around the house. From erstwhile lord of the house with Maud subservient to his commands, Everett transitions – at times grudgingly – to supporting Maud. It is an engaging study of character, all the way to film’s close. The 2016 movie is a biopic; it is based on the life of Canadian folk artist Maud Kathleen Lewis (nee Dowley).
Sally Hawkins (of ` Shape of Water’ fame) plays Maud while Ethan Hawke stars as her husband, Everett. It is a sterling piece of acting from Hawkins; Hawke supports well. Directed by Aisling Walsh, the film (I saw it on Netflix) builds up slowly and maintains a steady, unhurried pace. If you are the sort who has been using lockdown to reflect on life, then this film is a good watch. It stills life to moments and goes into the heart of what happiness is; how much of everything you need to be happy.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)