This year’s LA Film Festival left this physician wanting more. Diagnosis Movies prides itself not only on its film reviews but on the opportunity to discuss medical conditions in a public arena. The opportunity to educate while entertaining an audience is a privilege. I have reviewed THE ROAD WITHIN with its foray into Tourette syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and anorexia. NIGHTINGALE, too ,offers a glimpse into mental health but with far darker undertones. Its portrayal of psychosis succeeds in the most novel way possible – a one-man show.
Few people can pull off a movie like this. Captivating an audience with a solitary character without the interference of the outside world requires a delicate hand. Too easily, the audience could be distracted, the storytelling slowed. I raised these issues with writer Frederick Mensch at the film’s premiere and he replied with a smile. “There are two things that inspired me to write it. One is the creative impulse to talk about this character, a character who really lives in my imagination, and the other thing is just sort of a pragmatic one – as an independent filmmaker, I wanted to write a script that took as few obstacles as possible to getting the film produced. I was able to do that by writing a movie about one character in one location, and that turned out to be a ticket for me to get the film made.”
Certainly not an easy feat.
A one-man show is more common to the stage than the big screen, but director Elliott Lester pounced on the opportunity. His third directorial feature, Lester is not a novice to the screen. His work includes the Jason Statham film Blitz, but NIGHTINGALE touched a more tender spot. “We read it on a Wednesday, optioned it on a Monday and were shooting it in a couple of months. It is really a rare and unheard of situation. Compared to other projects, this has been a blessing.”
His inspiration took flight when he landed actor David Oyewolo for the lead. The director-actor collaboration obviously had chemistry. Oyewolo’s portrayal of Peter Snowden, a veteran fixated on meeting with an old military friend, is hauntingly isolated. All scenes take place in Peter’s home, symbolically trapping him in a physical location as much as in his own mind. As a viewer, you become claustrophobic yourself, almost surrendering to Peter’s downward spiral. Almost.
It is frightening to watch Peter unravel. In fleeting moments, you feel you understand him with clarity. Then his mind again becomes muddled with irrational digressions. Does Peter suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder? Schizophrenia? Is his mental health a result of his genes or his life circumstances? Does Peter actually interact with other people in the film, on the phone and at his door? Or are they products of his psychosis, hallucinations? It is left for the audience to work their way through the ambiguity that glues Peter together, a glue that melts away as he falls apart.
NIGHTINGALE is powerful filmmaking with a touch of mystery. Kudos to David Oyewolo for a rich performance and to director Elliott Lester for daring to bring an evocative one-man show to the screen.