Directed by: Brett M Butler, Jason G Butler
Starring: Robert Nolan, Jane Pokou, Shawn Devlin, Karen Suzuki
In Mourning Has Broken’s utterly charming opening tableau, we see a sleeping man (played by Robert Nolan) woken early by his cat. Carefully leaving his wife asleep in bed, he steps downstairs to make food for the hungry pet. In a scene that typifies his superb performance throughout, we see Nolan joke around while fixing the cat’s breakfast. Through the ostensible humour, however, and although nothing bad has happened yet, it is clear through his nervy performance that Nolan’s smile masks some sort of sadness. In the next few devastating moments, as Nolan returns to bed, we realise the source of that sadness: the medication on her side of the bed suggests that Nolan’s wife is a cancer patient. Moreover, as Nolan suddenly discovers, overnight she has passed away. The severe shock of this moment - from silly kitty play, to utter desolation - is beautifully handled. Nolan’s growing terror and distress as he digests the scene is cruelly contrasted by the humdrum thrum of the outside world, which, of course, carries on as normal; the sequence, solely soundtracked by an inconsiderate neighbour’s early lawn mowing, and Nolan’s primal howls, is as moving and uncomfortable as anything this reviewer has seen all year.
In the credits of Mourning Has Broken, Robert Nolan’s character is only ever referred to as ‘The Husband’. This simple sobriquet tells us everything we need to know about the character, and is entirely fitting to the film’s narrative purpose, as Mourning Has Broken is a film about what happens when callous fate breaks up a marriage, creating a void that love and loss and living simply cannot fill. It has been positioned that a typical first reaction to death is to deny the reality of the situation; Mourning Has Broken sees ‘The Husband’ follow this early stage of denial throughout an entire day, as, in an attempt to block out the shock of his loss, he grabs his pre-planned ‘to do’ list and focusses his energies on the simple domestic chores detailed within it: such as ‘Return Dress, Groceries, Dry Cleaning..’and (heartbreakingly) ‘Prescription (c)’.
What follows is a sadder, more subdued Falling Down. Like Michael Douglas in that earlier film, ‘The Husband’ fulfils a typical day, only with his loss amplifying every petty obstacle, and his desperation allowing him to confront said obstacles with reckless, comic intensity: as the film’s pithy tagline has it, 'He’s sad as hell and not going to take it anymore'. Thus, we grin knowingly as Nolan argues with the petty cashier who refuses to return a dress without a receipt, as he confronts a mendacious garage attendant ("you think you’re a better breed of person just ‘cos you know the parts of a car?!"), and as he takes on an entire cinema audience of yappers, chewers and mobile phone users (a scene that will have any viewer who regularly suffers the cacophony of the multiplex cinema all but cheering).
Nolan has already garnered critical appreciation for his performance, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Bringing to mind a rumpled Donny Osmond, Nolan is simply terrific. Featuring in every scene, he drives the film with his forlorn energy, his big round face essaying sadness and frustration in heart-breaking measure. He is immensely likeable, and if some of the film’s vignettes don’t completely come off, Nolan’s charm is never anything less than compelling. Most of the pleasure is derived from the small victories that ‘The Husband’ achieves, in situations that are contrived with a stand up comic’s eye for observational detail.
So, to say much more about Mourning Has Broken would be to ruin this darkly moving little film’s many charms. Mourning Has Broken will receive a VOD release next year- seek it out.
By Benjamin Poole