Carl Bessai couldn’t be accused of not having an eclectic filmography, including introspective takes on family (Fathers & Sons, Sisters & Brothers) punctuated by caper comedies (No Clue), Grindhouse riffs (Bad City) and the occasional Lifetime movie (Ungodly Acts). But for his latest work, Bessai has settled for a smaller budget and more intimate storytelling in Evelyne.
Recent Zimbabwean immigrant Evelyne (Rumbie Muzofa) has had an awful string of bad luck lately. From being sexually assalted by her boss, to the passing of her mother (Iris Mawunganidze), to suffering abuse at the hands of her PTSD-ailing husband Hali (Kareem Malcolm), the last of which forces Evelyne to flee with her young daughter Amandine (real-life daughter Neemah Muzofa) for a safer environment.
She finds one in an apartment building managed by Gary (Bessai in a rare acting appearance), a retired football player nursing a lifetime of game injuries. Upon learning of their dire situation, Gary takes pity on the pair and allows them to live rent-free in exchange for odd jobs and the occasional home-cooked meal. As Evelyne finally finds some peace for her and Amadine, the equilibrium is disturbed when Hali tracks them down.
I suppose a sustained cynical malaise is hard to avoid in the world of film criticism. While I was confronted with a potentially deep and fulfilling spiritual journey in the film’s opening act, especially evident in scenes between Evelyne and her mother, the remaining runtime proceeded to dissolve into the cloying, predictable trademarks of a 90s television movie.
Even the stellar performances of born-star Muzofa and all-too-brief supporting turns of Muwunganidze and Malcolm fail to elevate the stale story structure. I knew almost exactly where this story was going and was all the more bored and disappointed upon arriving at the inevitable conclusion.
There was real potential in this west-coast slice-of-life. I’m not familiar with much of Bessai’s work other than the aforementioned No Clue (decent airline movie and not much else), but I can’t help wondering why a veteran director can’t do better than this film school-level time filler. At least he had decent help in front of the camera.
Evelyne screens virtually as a part of Whistle Film Festival until Dec 31