I felt a lot of different emotions while watching Falling South. It's one of the longer of the films I've reviewed lately, at 39 minutes, but the time was well spent. I watched it a few times and have had a difficult time getting the courage to face this story head-on and write the review. Don't worry, that's not a bad thing. It simply means that I cared about this film enough on a personal level that I didn't want to write this until I felt like I was ready.
Obviously this is not like other reviews you've read, or that I've written. Taking it too personally? Perhaps. But how often do we see a film that just jolts us to the core and makes us face our own demons, so much that even thinking about the film brings back the tears and leaves us wishing we could give the characters a big hug? I know it won't resonate so deeply with everyone who watches it, but because of the subject matter and the way the film is played out, I'm willing to bet that much of the audience will feel something they didn't expect by the end of it.
It starts out simple enough, a girl swimming in a pool in a gorgeous room full of art. I'm not sure if the chlorine in the room is great for the paintings, perhaps they are prints, I was thinking. The girl notices a woman in a painting, holding a baby, and the girl looks sad. Then she's at Niagara Falls. Oh, that's pretty. I've never been there. But, she looks sad. Why is being by the water making her sad? Or is it her happy place? I wasn't really sure where the film was heading, but I liked the scenery and cinematography. Then she arrived home and things started to feel very different.
She's in an immaculate kitchen in a spacious home, trying to revive a dying plant with Miracle Grow, and she looks hopeful that it will work. Then her husband comes home, and we find out her name is Charlotte. Quickly they aren't getting along. Husband is impatient and insensitive, angry that dinner isn't ready, asking if she went to Canada again, after she said she packed away the last of the stuff. We suspect that the baby gift bags and other things in the crib upstairs might have a different meaning now to this young couple. He says she's not going to Canada tomorrow and grabs her keys and passport. Then he throws away the "dead" plant and tells her not to get it out of the trash. She has had enough, and grabs his keys and her purse, and a baby gift bag, and leaves out the front door.
Charlotte goes for a drive but does not look back, sleeping in the car the first night. Her husband reports her missing and then reports the car stolen and turns off the credit cards, thinking she'll have to come home. He seems to mostly care about his car, and his control of her. When she can't buy gas because her cards don't work, she drives until she's about to run out, and then parks the car and starts walking. All she has with her are a sweater, her purse, and the baby gift bag. She sleeps under a big bunch of bushes, then the next day meets a lady with 4 little pageant daughters. The nice mother gives Charlotte some snacks because she's starving. Then suddenly Charlotte realizes the gift bag isn't with her....she panics and runs back to find it under the bushes where she slept. She is so relieved. We still don't know what's in the bag. Charlotte goes to FairyLand, hoping to see happy things, but the bright statues inside are of storybook characters, and suddenly Charlotte is upset and leaves there quickly.
Charlotte gets a ride from a very nice transgender woman named Eve. They are instant friends. Eve gives Charlotte a ride to Florida, and gives her some great advice along the way. I really liked their dynamic. Eve had a mother with 8 children so Eve felt unloved because she is different. Charlotte is sad for Eve and wishes Eve's mom knew what it's like to not have a child, because she...oh no, now Charlotte is starting to let on her secret. Eve understands and doesn't need her to say more.
Charlotte is determined to find a job and make a new life. She still has her bag, her purse, her sweater. She gets a job at a fern farm, and the nice lady there lets Charlotte sleep in the spare cottage. Charlotte learns to trim the ferns for flower arrangements. This new place is beautiful and peaceful to her. She seems to be finding happiness again. We still haven't seen what's in that bag. Very clever of the writer/director to keep us intrigued by the gift bag. I had my suspicions of what was in there, and I was right. Charlotte sits on the bed in her cottage one day and opens the bag. We get to see what's inside. I don't want to give it away. I want you to watch this film. Let's just say, I've been in similar situations as Charlotte, and I full-on cried when she unwrapped and re-wrapped what was in the bag. I had guessed pretty closely what it would be, but it cut even deeper than I'd imagined, and when you watch it, you'll see why.
I have tried really hard to find some constructive criticism for this film. Perhaps just a bit of the fern-trimming scenes could have been shorter, but then again the ladies who are cutting with Charlotte are sweet, and it's beautiful there. I thought the beginning started a little slow, until I watched it the second time and understood why the director started off this way. Turns out that the writer/director, Charlotte, and myself all have things in common. Lorraine Turner based much of this story on events from her own life. I wish I could thank her for making such a heart-wrenching film that at this moment has me typing through my tears again as I think about Charlotte's journey of acceptance and new beginnings, and learning to love herself and feel peace again. For anyone who has been through any kind of abusive relationship or loss like miscarriage or stillbirth, this one is going to maybe hurt a bit, for it is beautifully tragic, but also full of hope. I'll be watching for its release, and I hope to share it with people who are facing similar situations of fear, loss, grief, and new beginnings. I'm so glad I was able to watch and review this film. It is excellent. The acting is superb. Great job to Madeline Barr, who plays Charlotte. I don't know if she's ever really been through any of these things, but she played the part perfectly, very believable.