Once was lost, now not quite saved: Kenneth Lonergan’s 150-minute cut of “Margaret,” the eccentric release of which has yet to be explained because of ongoing litigation, returns to Chicago, in 35mm, for a one-week run, because of the support of local critics. Condensing what I wrote at the time of its fugitive release in October: “Margaret” is a frayed-nerves feat of furious articulation. Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) is a privileged young woman whose confusions run from mother to father, to sex, to the life of the mind, to elemental guilt. Thematically, “survivor guilt” after 9/11 resounds in Lisa’s witness to, and potential cause of, the death of a woman who’s hit by a city bus. The profusion of life, of life in Manhattan post-9/11, of life that eddies in all directions, is novelistic in ambition, Dickensian in a welter of cracked legalisms. (The film was shot in 2005; note the copyright on the still above.) Paquin brandishes a bravura performance—shrill, feral, emphatic, self-dramatizing, self-cautioning, self-aware, self-immolating—that is like nothing I’ve ever seen. She’s in Lisa’s skin and it’s an uncomfortable place. There’s a repeated fugue as interlude, figures on the city’s sidewalks caught in extreme slow-motion, with Ryszard Lenczewski’s cinematography tending to the shadow-bruised, the ashen. A shaft of light will suddenly pick someone out in the deep distance, their faces illumined in full proper focus for a brief instant. This, too, is Lonergan’s dramatic impulse: how do we all mesh? What’s teeming just beyond all parameters of the frame? The sudden, thrilling, earned ending is an impulsive and perfect and human moment: a little lunge toward tenderness. Plus: the promise of the Thelma Schoonmaker-Martin Scorsese cut, closer to the three hours of material in the screenplay, nestling on a hard drive somewhere out there. 149m. (Ray Pride)
“Margaret” opens Friday for one week at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.