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VIFF 2017: Never Steady, Never Still

Thank you to the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival for inviting LINK magazine writers out to see this year’s films

Never Steady, Never Still
dir. Kathleen Hepburn

The constant throughout the film is honesty, in every aspect.

Kathleen Hepburn’s Never Steady, Never Still is a film about isolation, feeling isolated from the environment, and from your own body and mind. Director Kathleen Hepburn is an emerging BC filmmaker who won three awards at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival: the Sea to Sky Award for a female key creative on a BC-produced feature or short, the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award, and finally the Emerging Canadian Director award, sponsored by the Directors’ Guild of Canada. And those awards are well-deserved, as evidenced in this film.

Never Steady, Never Still tells the story of Judy (Shirley Henderson) who struggles with early onset Parkinson’s disease, and her son Jamie (Théodore Pellerin), who grapples with adulthood and his sexuality. Throughout the film, the audience watches Hepburn’s characters through everything from shaky hand-held camera shots to vast and gorgeous northern BC landscapes. The audience cannot help but be completely moved by the beauty and authenticity in each performance, shot, and piece of dialogue.

The constant throughout the film is honesty, in every aspect.  Judy confronts the challenges that come with being a woman and as a person rendered physically incapable of fulfilling the roles traditionally expected of her. The theme of loss carries through the film as the audience learns more about Judy and watches her condition deteriorate.

Every moment in the film is heartbreaking, genuine and well-crafted. The symbolic and metaphorical imagery, and sparse and meaningful dialogue force the audience to rethink what it means to be human. These worthwhile moments that Never Steady, Never Still offers allow the audience time to contemplate and breathe, which makes the rather heavy content of the film more digestible.

Théodore Pellerin as Jamie speaks a line that truly resonated with me: “If you’re better than this place, then why is this place so hard?”. Jamie is working a brutally demanding job at an oil rig, and struggles to find his place there. One can’t help but empathize with his situation, and the simple truth that adulthood seems to always sneak up on you right when you aren’t ready to grow up.

One of the most endearing scenes of intimacy in the film is when Jamie comes home late at night and finds Judy has been in the bath for hours, unable to get herself out. He reaches down and the audience sees a stunning sequence of him lifting her, carrying her to bed, and helping her warm up and get clothed. This provides a nice counter-balance to the themes of loss and isolation, and invokes the image of a parent holding a newborn child. It also marks a turning point in the mother and son relationship, and the shifting of son into the dominant role in their household as his mother’s condition worsens.

Overall, this film’s craftsmanship is outstanding. It felt authentic and passionate, and above all, honest. This film is intelligent, with her own mother’s battle with Parkinson’s (she speaks about this more in this interview), and the acting is phenomenal. This film is heavy at times, yet provides the viewer with time to contemplate the roles they play in their own lives, and how overcoming uncontrollable challenges brings you closer to those around you and the physical environment you live in.

I would recommend this film to anyone who appreciates something beautiful to look at while they mull over some of life’s biggest questions.