"The Shore" reps a sincere, if simplistic, attempt on the part of frosh helmer Dionysius Zervos to craft a Stateside version of the stately 1960s Euro psychodrama. Though possessed of a shrewd eye and intuitive feeling for the elliptical silences necessary to such fare, Zervos is undone in the end by over-ambitious plotting and awkward thesping.

A moody Amerindie in which the mysterious seaside disappearance of a little girl exerts a riptide pull on her mother and grandparents, “The Shore” reps a sincere, if simplistic, attempt on the part of frosh helmer Dionysius Zervos to craft a Stateside version of the stately 1960s Euro psychodrama. Though possessed of a shrewd eye and intuitive feeling for the elliptical silences necessary to such fare, Zervos is undone in the end by over-ambitious plotting and awkward thesping. Offshore fests and upscale cablers are safest ports for this naive yet noble vessel.

In a sun drenched, almost dreamlike American resort town — pic was shot in Wildwood, New Jersey — Bob and Becky Harris (Ben Gazzara, Lesley Ann Warren) run a cozy local eatery. Their daughter, waitress Kaliope (Izabelle Miko), is a single mother who relies on her parents to watch daughter Anna (Erika Faye Shasho) on weekends. During one such visit, while at the beach with her grandmother, Anna disappears.

Bulk of the story charts the characters’ reactions to the loss. Becky does her best to block the tragedy out, chattering about the child’s upcoming birthday yet collapsing in grief when she glimpses her face on a “missing” poster. Kaliope broods a good bit, and gravitates toward colleague and good-time girl Tina (Paula Garces), who’s become involved with coarse strip-club owner Raymond (Costas Mandylor). Bob barely contains his anger behind a gruff exterior. Also involved is lifeguard Nick (Matt Newton), who tells both Becky and Kaliope he was there the day Anna disappeared.

Zervos cites as influences the work of such Euro heavyweights as Bresson and Kieslowski. From the determinedly fragmented narrative to his characters’ inner journeys, the gravitational pull is obvious. Yet two films that seem even more immediate precursors are Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now,” for it’s sad ghost of a departed child, and Robert Altman’s “Three Women,’ for the water imagery and murky inner workings of its protags. Still, the helmer has a ways to go to capture a fraction of the moral authority of his influences, and the provocative story is dissipated by at least one plot strand too many.

Warren’s erratic, grief-stricken grandmother is the pic’s most fitfully satisfying perf, while Gazzara’s hostile disengagement may be what the story requires, but limits auds’ sympathies toward him. Miko, Garces and Mandylor lack the gravitas to express the implied complexities of their roles, while Newton strikes the right balance of youth and mystery.

Tech package is well-rounded. Per helmer, who cameos as Kaliope’s b.f., the pic is the first of a planned trilogy featuring elements of water and loss.

The Shore

Production

This review was updated on Nov. 2, 2005. An Ethos Cinema presentation. Produced by Dionysius Zervos. Executive producers, Gregory Whissell, Steve Vasiliadis, Steve Pappas, Brian Mehling, Alex Spentzos. Directed, written by Dionysius Zervos.

Crew

Camera (color), Bud Gardner; editor, Pete Mecchi; music, Patrick De Caumette; production designer, Vicky Falidus; sound, Yi Zhang. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 16, 2005. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Ben Gazzara, Lesley Ann Warren, Izabelle Miko, Paula Garces, Costas Mandylor, Erika Faye Shasho, Matt Newton.
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