The Myth of Fingerprints (1997)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, Ensemble Film, Reunion Films  |   Release Date - Sep 17, 1997 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Nathan Southern

Fascinating and underrated, this haunting ensemble drama from Bart Freundlich takes a great gamble, by weaving implication and delicate suggestion throughout its Thanksgiving weekend chronicle. The writer-director keeps everything subtle and low key, with past traumas of the central family left bubbling beneath the surface and manifest in quiet aural and visual clues. To be certain, a backstory exists - involving the children's psychological scars, parental pathology, buried memories - but these people are as repressed as their wintry New England environment, and true to life, we never get overt discussion of what happened, only scattered clues in behavior and dialogue. "I can't tell you why I love your father," mother Lena (Blythe Danner) tells one of the children, "But I still do." Why still? We may think we have it figured out, but Freundlich keeps on disclosing new information, right up through the final sequence - a projection of a bizarre home movie from decades past. This is a disturbing picture, and not an easy sit, but Freundlich demonstrates courage by only giving us the minimum information that we need to make our own deductions. He also has an extraordinary hand with actors, and coaxes outstanding performances from the entire ensemble; Danner, Scheider, Wyle, Moore and Davis are uniformly superb. Though extremely offbeat and eccentric, Fingerprints is almost entirely successful on its own terms.