Directed by: Kalainithan Kalaichelvan
Written by: Kalainithan Kalaichelvan
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This movie is equal mixes of narrative and style as it internalizes that harsh line between faith and reality, for our leading lady Lydia (JoAnn Nordstrom) that is. After becoming widowed, Lydia is left to deal with her sick son Eli (Maddox Hayward) who seems only to be getting worse as time flows onward. Penned and directed by Kalainithan Kalaichelvan, "Stella Maris" sets itself up to be an excellent study of the human mind. It promises to ask questions of faith and religion - alongside questions of the human psyche. How the mind of a person deals with trauma, loss and hope. Unfortunately, the delivery falls just slightly short of the promise. Leaving the really interesting elements to collect dust on a shelf. "Stella Maris" doesn't "completely" ignore what it promises to deliver, it simply skims these interesting aspects instead of pulling forward one hundred percent. To be fair, this isn't the fault of Kalaichelvan or the cast. "Stella Maris" is a short film, and when you consider what "is" present within the short seventeen minute length, you can't deny the talent of everyone involved. There is a start, middle and ending to this title and as a trio, an entire story is told. The aspects I wrote of above are still a huge part of the story. I just felt that more could have been done to flesh out these questions of the mind. Even if it meant adding a few extra minutes to the length.
So lets speak of what "is" contained within this title. First we have the questions of the mind that do play out on your screen. I may have wrote I wished more existed, but that doesn't change the fact that there is still plenty to see and write about. Watching Lydia go from bad to worse was a great centerpiece of the production. The way she begins to "break" and take it out on her son was interesting in itself. How she turns to her faith for comfort, actually "expecting" a miraculous recovery for her son, should he himself put his faith in God and perform in his name. I also appreciated that the illness itself was unnamed, although closely "resembling" some form of radiation sickness or cancer. This leaves a lot of room for us, the viewers, to hope he may "actually" recover before the credits. Although I hoped for slightly more from this title regarding the story, there really is no doubt a lot still exists to make this film interesting. I also feel the need to mention the wardrobe design, prop design and locations. This is where "Stella Maris" earns top marks. For a low budget film I was pleasantly shocked at the overall "bigger" feel this film portrays. Now add to the mix some great cinematography and a moving score, and it becomes apparent quickly that this title is more than just a stylistic passing project for all involved.
So just what "is" so stylistic about this film? It's all in the presentation. I'm sure that you, the reader, have figured out this is a period film. Without really paying attention to the wardrobe or locations, the stylistic choices make that completely apparent. "Stella Maris" is a black and white venture. Cropped to the aspect ratio of your Grandparents television set. I can't say I'm a big believer in turning back the clock on our technical advancements in cinema, yet somehow it seems to work here. The mix of design and scoring, added to the black and white nature of the visuals, let me know exactly what I was getting into before I committed the time. Personally, I would have kept everything visually the same, except maybe the aspect ratio. It really is distracting watching this film on a standard widescreen. I just couldn't help but notice the empty holes on the left and right of the image. Yet it "was" interesting to imagine the planning that probably went into it. Knowing the framing would have to be different for the cinematographer.
"Stella Maris" ends up being a film you'll either love or hate. It's beauty and elegance will surely captivate anyone who appreciates a stylistic production. There is nothing half ass about this title. It's true that this won't be for everyone, but I think that's kind of the point. Kalainithan Kalaichelvan has seemingly went for something different and risky. "Stella Maris" is just that. If "thinking outside the modern box" is not your thing, I'm pretty sure you won't pay much attention to this film. For those all about the crystal clear images and break-neck speed of movies today, this is "not" for you. If you want something different visually, and oddly moving, for such a sad story, this title may be the ticket. Why not find out for yourself?