Last fall Sitting on the Edge of Marlene took the Vancouver International Film Festival by storm, earning director Ana Valine the BC Emerging Filmmaker award. If you missed it, then you can catch it at Vancity Theatre, where it will open on February 27 and run until March 3.
The film focusses on the the far-from-functional relationship of mother-daughter con artists Marlene (Suzanne Clément) and Sammie (Paloma Kwiatkowski). It follows them past the time when there was an element of glamour to their lifestyle and into a period where Marlene is deteriorating and Sammie longs for something better.
There is a definite darkness to the film and by its end it will have taken you to some unpleasant, but thought provoking, places. Of the ending Valine says that:
“People might not get what they want but they get what they need. For Sammie the only way she can sort of move forward is to be free. And Marlene needs to be free too. Everybody has their own interpretation of the ending. Some people don’t like it, they have a real reaction to it, which is also really good, and some people understand it as being what has to happen.”
Valine adapted the story from a novella by Canadian author Billie Livingston which is titled ‘The Trouble with Marlene.’ Livingston’s original title was actually ‘Sitting on the Edge of Marlene,’ but it was changed by a publisher. Valine has changed it back because the original title “reflects the story much more.”
The title is very closely entwined with the main characters’ relationship, which is what drew Valine to the story in the first place:
“I found the relationship between the mother and daughter really intriguing. You know that sort of needing to grow and to move away from history and from previous generations and such. So there was that. I also really like the dark humour in it. Because even though it’s heavy it does have some pretty strange black humour going on in it.”
There is no comic relief in the movie, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t comedy.
The film is dark, dealing with themes like addiction and suicide, but one of the most jarring things about it is how real the deeply flawed characters start to feel. Valine describes this intimacy the audience has with them as one of the ways in which the film gets under our skin:
“I love the intimacy of getting in there, in people’s homes with them where they behave very naturally. I think that we don’t get to experience that very often with each other because we put on our best when we go out into the world. So it is uncomfortable to get in someone’s life with them and they behave in ways that we don’t necessarily approve of or are foreign to us.”
“We all have a dark side,” Valine describes why Marlene specifically becomes a figure of fascination. “I think that Marlene does what she wants to do when she wants to do it. There’s probably a part of all of us that wishes we could behave that way, without responsibility and be completely indulgent.”
There is a tendency for people to have a strong reaction to the film, which Valine has mixed feelings about:
“I find that post screening is interesting because it usually takes people a few minutes to get back. It’s a mixed blessing because the film is obviously doing something, but as a filmmaker there is a little bit of awkwardness for me too. As a filmmaker that’s great, it’s doing its thing: it’s moving people making people think. As a person I’m like ‘oh jeez, sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel weird or uncomfortable.’”
Although it has already been successful at VIFF, this opening will be the first time general audiences will encounter the film. Valine describes festivals as somewhere where there is a built-in audience of moviegoers who want to see something different whereas, “This is the film going out into the real world with no protection and just being purely available to anyone who wants to see it. It’s out totally exposed and has to stand on its own.”
Ana Valine will be doing a Q&A following the 6:30 p.m. screening on Friday evening.