In the 1950 Japanese film, Rashomon, legendary director Akira Kurosawa uses a plot device that was considered revolutionary for its time. Widely seen as one of the greatest films ever made, it became known for telling the same story — the rape of a woman and the murder of her samurai husband — from four characters' wildly contradictory perspectives. The result is a dizzying exploration into the unavoidable subjectivity of our perceptions, biases, and memories.
It was a narrative tool that so confounded the cast that several of the film's stars approached Kurosawa to get the real story of what happened. This, in Kurosawa's mind, missed the point entirely. The goal wasn't to wrap up this classic whodunit tale with a tidy bow, but rather to question the very nature of truth itself. Does objective truth exist in a world where we are constantly coloured by our own egos and anxieties?
This question lies at the heart of Ordinary Days, screening this week at the Whistler Film Festival, a suspenseful crime thriller that revolves around the five-day disappearance of an aloof college girl. Taking a page out of Kurosawa's book, the film is divided into three distinct segments, each following a different character as they process the aftermath of Cara's disappearance.
Unlike Kurosawa's epic, however, each section of the film is helmed by a different director, giving this cinematic triptych a uniquely splintered quality that still manages to add up to a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. With a script by Ramona Barckert, Ordinary Days presented a unique challenge to the film's trio of directors, who had to balance the objective of telling their own distinct stories with the need to maintain consistency in narrative and visual language.
"It was a liberating process," said Jordan Canning, who directed the film's first act, which focuses primarily on Cara's parents as the authorities worry that she may have been kidnapped — or worse. "I think it's important to have a balance in your career of being able to have full control creative vision of a feature. But working in TV you learn pretty quick that this is not your show. Your job is to execute your vision and the vision of the project as a whole, and then you don't really have much control over what happens next."
That relinquishing of control was a challenge that Kris Booth relished when tackling the second part of the film, which centres around troubled detective Jonathan Brightbill, who wrestles with his own personal demons as he begins to put the pieces of the case together.
When he first read the script, Booth said he didn't really connect to it. "It was just a cop going from A to B to C asking questions, and I didn't see the relevance of it."
It wasn't until the director became a father and lost his own dad to cancer that he began to truly understand the Brightbill character and agreed to take on Act 2, which he admits "scared him" the most out of each segment. "It was things that were written in the script that Brightbill reacted to, that the parents were saying to Brightbill when he interviewed them, that really called to me," Booth explained. "It made me feel Brightbill was going on a journey to find himself. Rather than find Cara, he was finding himself."
Director Renuka Jeyapalan didn't want to give away too much about the final segment of the film, which centres on Cara and sheds light on the mystery fuelling the first two acts.
Jeyapalan's first feature experience, the restraints the film's final act placed on her appealed to her directorial ambitions.
"It was very restrictive because it had very limited locations, cast, and hardly any dialogue. It was all visual," she remarked. "And you don't have a lot of the elements you usually have as a filmmaker to tell that story and create drama or tension. It was very daunting, and that was appealing because I had never done anything like that before."
The inherent nature of the mystery genre, with its withholding of information and slow-burn reveals, lends itself to the fragmented style of storytelling that Ordinary Days employed, Jeyapalan believes.
"It's a good match for the genre. What's interesting about Ordinary Days is it is just one story about a young woman who goes missing, but it's been told from three different perspectives. And it's not like it's three different stories that are linked, it's one story,' she said. "So I think it gets that mystery of what happened to her to fuel each section in a different way."
Ordinary Days screens at the Maury Young Arts Centre at 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 2. For tickets, visit whistlerfilmfestival.com.