Directed by Thom Fitzgerald | Written by Fitzgerald, based on the play by Lee-Anne Poole | 94 min | At Neptune Theatre in Halifax
This film debuted in these parts back at the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival in 2018 after having played at TIFF, and at the time was Fitzgerald’s return to feature filmmaking after a stretch of other projects. Since then another one of Fitzgerald’s films has opened in cinemas, Stage Mother. He’s having a busy year.
With Splinters, Fitzgerald adapts Lee-Anne Poole’s play about a prodigal daughter, Belle (Sofia Banzhaf), coming home — shades of Fitzgerald’s debut, The Hanging Garden — to the Annapolis Valley ranch and apple orchard where her father (Hugh Thompson) has just died and her taciturn mother, Nancy (Shelley Thompson, terrific), is bereft.
When Belle’s boyfriend Rob (Callum Dunphy) shows up unexpectedly, homophobic Nancy is initially thrilled that her daughter has said goodbye to her previously established gay lifestyle, but not so fast, folks. The film sets out to explore less stringent, or at least, less straightforward, identity politics and how an older and more judgmental generation might be confused by such — and, more so, how the stories we tell ourselves about our identity may be subject to change. It’s messy and feels mostly real, even as it crosses over into melodrama and never entirely shirks its steps on the stage. A limited-run screening at Neptune Theatre (and online at Neptune at Home) makes all the sense in the world.
Even with the queer identity subtext on the front foot, consider this is a weekend-in-the-country tale of family compromise and possible understanding, less concerned with the forward momentum of plot or character resolution — or even scoring political points — than presenting a series of scenes in the shadow of grief, told in the most gorgeous of settings. The Valley in late summer has never looked better.