Mouthpiece (2018)

Director: Patricia Rozema
Writer: Amy Nostbakken, Patricia Rozema
Based on: Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken’s play
Cast: Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava, Maev Beaty, Taylor Belle, Paula Boudreau, Jess Salgueiro, Jake Epstein, Ari Cohen
Seen on: 28.12.2022

Cassandra (Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava) wakes up after a drunken night to the message that her mother has died. Shocked, she tries to work her way through the funeral preparations, insisting that she should be the one to hold the eulogy, not her brother Danny (Jake Epstein). But Danny and their father (Ari Cohen) are reluctant about that because Cassandra and her mother (Maev Beaty) haven’t always gotten along.

Mouthpiece works with a central conceit – one character being played by two women who always show up together. Usually this kind of “one-trick-pony”-films are better suited to short films, but Rozema, Sadava and Nostbakken continue to find new ways to explore Cassandra and her inner life with it that is more than filling for an innovative and emotional feature length film.

The film poster showing Cassandra (Norah Sadava) and Cassandra (Amy Nostbakken), standing in a 90 degree angle to each other, their opened mouths blending together.

Mouthpiece is certainly a high concept film. That can feel artificial, but Rozema, Nostbakken and Sadava make it feel completely natural. Who hasn’t felt like one part of them wanted something, while another part wanted something different, maybe even opposite? The film explores this ambivalence – that Cassandra seems to have inherited from her mother (though she never shows up as two people) – in all of its implications. The way it can give strength when you have an honest conversation with yourself. The way it can be destructive when you fight yourself.

But also on a less intrapersonal level, the film comments on how women in particular regulate their reactions and emotions – keeping their first reaction to themselves, and responding with more acceptable ones (not that the a certain amount ot emotional and reactive regulation isn’t normal and even necessary). Cassandra is catcalled, for example, and one part of her gives the honest reaction (“fuck off”) and another the socially acceptable one (“thank you”).

Cassandra (Amy Nostbakken) and Cassandra (Norah Sadava) walking through the night. The former is running, the latter seems to be screaming.

Nostbakken and Sadava are really impressive in the way they are in sync – until they’re not. Despite all differences between them, it is not difficult to see them as two halves of the same person, they feel so connected. And Rozema takes those performances and expands them cinematically, using mirrors, costumes and space to emphasize the fantastic character work.

The film doesn’t lose itself in its concept. It doesn’t forget that first and foremost, the audience has to connect emotionally, and provides ample opportunity for that. It is that, ultimately, that makes the film keep feeling fresh and relevant even after we get a good grasp of its idea.

Cassandra (Amy Nostbakken) and Cassandra (Norah Sadava) laughing together.

Summarizing: really good.

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