Termini Station: Starring Colleen Dehurst

Kitchen-sink realism marks the new Canadian film, Termini Station, a touching story of the complex relationship between a mother and daughter, both trying to free themselves from a bitter past.

Colleen Dewhurst plays Molly Dushane, the hard-drinking mother who, years back, scandalized her small town with a long, adulterous affair. Old and frustrated, she substitutes her passionate love with a strong liking for booze, opera, and a dream of going to Rome. Molly is a kind of a modernized version of Bette Davis’s heroine in Beyond the Forest, Warners’ melodrama of l949. Davis’s memorable line, “What a dump!” uttered in disgust of her husband and the town she lives in, is almost echoed by Molly. Sick and tired of the soaps shown on TV, the disenchanted Molly says “who writes such kind of crap” and immediately grabs the bottle.

Molly’s daughter, Micheline (Megan Follows), is a bright, vulnerable and hard-edged girl, stuck in a small-town existence. She moves from one part-time job to another during the day; in the evening, she hustles with her two friends at the Greyhound Bus Terminal. What sets the narrative in motion is the death of Molly’s lover, Mr. Stein, and Micheline’s attempts to buy his big black De Soto, which is used in the film as a metaphor for freedom and passion. Her brother Harvey (Gordon Clapp), entrapped in a boring marriage himself, works for a tire business and is not above using his sister to get a desirable promotion. After the tragic death of his father (one of the family’s many secrets), Harvey strives to control his family, but the two women prove to be defiantly strong.

True to melodramatic form, Termini Station airs its dirty linen in a confessional manner. The film is basically a melodrama in the mold of l950s works by Tennessee Williams and William Inge, in which the protagonists feel suffocated and stifled by the oppressiveness of their surroundings. However, written by a woman, Colleen Murphy, the film is imbued with what can be described as soft feminism. “I stopped listening to men and their promises,” says Molly, hoping that her daughter’s life would be different from hers.

The film’s sensibility is too theatrical, perhaps a result of the screenwriter’s previous work for the theater. Most of the scenes are staged as confrontations between two characters, in which emotional revelations are made. The mise en scene of Allan King (who is married to the screenwriter) lacks distinction, but he seems to be good with actors. However, King has set the emotional pitch of his movie way too high; the characters seem to be on a perpetual edge of hysteria.

Director King is more effective in conveying the visual authenticity of the locale. Set in the dead of winter, the film depicts a wet and dreary town, its streets empty and depressing. “Nothing is true but the sounds of my boots hitting the pavement,” says Micheline in a moment of anger to her boyfriend. This sentence captures the essence of Micheline, but also indicates the film’s weakness–the drama is too earthbound, and the camera too close to the actors.

Nonetheless, the main reason to see Termini Station is the towering performance of the late and great Colleen Dewhurst. In a role that could be easily performed in a flashier manner, Dewhurst conveys quietly but most powerfully the pains of a terminally ill and frustrated woman, who has never had the courage to follow her instincts. One of the foremost actresses of the American theater, a winner of multiple Tony Awards and the definitive interpreter of Eugene O’Neill plays, Dewhurst’s screen roles have been sporadic and her film career unremarkable. Termini Station, which features her last screen role, is an appropriate swan song to a most charismatic actress.