Everything Put Together: Marc Forster’s Sundance Film, Starring Radha Mitchell

A riveting, often haunting chronicle of a young mother who’s unable to come to terms with the loss of her firstborn baby, Everything Put Together is the second feature (and fourth film) of Marc Forster, the gifted Swiss-born, American-educated director. Innovatively shot on digital video, drama recalls in its emotional immediacy and psychological intensity The Celebration, though it lacks the sharp narrative and characterizations of the 1998 Danish hit.

The beautiful Aussie thespian Radha Mitchell, who’s rapidly maturing into a terrifically accomplished actress, renders a staggering performance as the young wife-mother whose grief almost drives her to madness and hell. A risk-taking distributor should pick up this tough, demanding picture, which is bound to travel the festival road as a sampler of how the new digital technology could be applied to provocative storytelling.

Angie (Mitchell) and her husband Russ (Justin Louis) live in a quiet suburban community where peace and order prevail. As the story begins, Angie is socializing with her best friends, Judith (Catherine Lloyd Burns) and Barbie (Megan Mullally). The bond among three femmes is strengthened by the fact that all three are pregnant. Judith’s cynical observation, that “men are born to their mothers as babies and stay that way,” applies to her hubby, but not to Angie’s.

As they excitedly prepare for their parenthood, Angie and the lovingly loyal Russ celebrate their good fortune with their close friends, and the couple seems happier than ever. When Angie gives birth, just weeks after Judith has hers, she is ecstatic over her perfectly formed, seemingly healthy baby boy. Early on, when Angie visits Dr. Reiner (Matt Malloy), for a checkup, there are already signs that she’s is overly anxious about her pregnancy. Her worries are confirmed when a day after what seemed like a textbook delivery, the doctor pulls her hubby aside and whispers something in her ears. Intuitively expecting the worse, Angie screams hysterically–and the world around her literally collapses.

In brief scenes, helmer shows how Angie’s friends help to remove the nursery furniture and decorations from the baby’s room. The sympathetic doc tries to explain that the baby’s heart just stopped and, that contrary to popular notion, many infants die from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). To no avail: Asking the inevitable question of “why me” Angie seeks more rational explanations. Rejecting her caring hubby’s support, she sinks into a severe depression that takes her deeper and deeper to the abyss.

Drama concerns how Angie–and her friends–deals with the tragedy and its aftermath. Whereas rituals of childbirth (morning sickness, birthing classes, baby-showers, and christening) are familiar to the three women, the loss of a child is uncharted territory, the kind of calamity that society doesn’t prepare for. Relying on their instincts, Angie’s chums and their spouses withdraw, based on their discomfort and belief that the grieving mother needs time in solitude.

Helmer Forster treats the catastrophe that inflicts Angie as a contemporary horror story, echoing in mood and style Polanski’s masterpieces, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, both of which explore concern women in a state of total seclusion. At least half of the narrative documents how Angie’s frightening ordeal, manifest in her refusal to accept reality and reach finality, completely isolates her from those around her. She goes to the morgue to examine her baby; she insists on visiting the storage where her baby’s toys are buried; she watches children and their mom playing in the park.

Though one of the three scripters, Burns, is a woman, the film comes across as being told from a detached male perspective, which might upset some female viewers. Dominated by one character, the narrative suffers from a schematic construction that strains credibility. Angie’s friends refuse to talk to her on the phone and all but ignore her, upon meeting her in a department store, where she is playing with children’s toys. Russ’s chum asks him not to call and not to visit their house anymore.

With the exception of Angie’s part, which is finely-shaded, all the other roles, male and female, are one-dimensional. This is particularly the case of Angie’s mom, whose voice is heard in telephone conversations, because she’s too busy to visit her suffering daughter.

Yet whatever problems critics may have with the scrip, pic’s weakest aspect, are almost overcome by Forster’s bravura visual style, endowing a rather familiar story with a freshly bold treatment. Almost every scene is shot from an unusual angle and framing is decidedly offbeat by conventional standards; humans and objects are bizarrely placed at the center of frame. In its hauntingly eerie effect Matt Cheese’s editing brings to mind the cutting of Nicholas Roeg’s films, particularly Don’t Look Now with which this pic shares thematic resemblance. As shot by Roberto Schaefer, tension and dread prevail from start to end, lending pic unpredictability (seldom knowing where story will go next) and foreboding ambience.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the film without Mitchell, who dominates every frame with a dauntless performance that should place her at the forefront of American actresses. Using natural lighting as much as possible, this transfer of digital video to film is uneven in what seems to be an extremely low-budge effort.