An affecting portrait of two wounded souls healing as best they can on the New Jersey Shore in early 2003.

An affecting portrait of two wounded souls healing as best they can on the New Jersey Shore in early 2003, “Divergence” boasts nuanced, quietly devastating perfs by relative newcomers Traci Ann Wolfe and Jakob Hawkins. Profoundly American in its evocation of duty and personal responsibility, pic also allows that there’s such a thing as grief that sheer gumption can’t remedy. The specter of America’s presence in Iraq colors every frame. First pic by d.p. Patrick J. Donnelly shows talent all around.

Lanky U.S. Army airborne helicopter pilot Tim Lawson (Hawkins) shows up on his chilly, sparsely populated home turf. On temporary leave due to a bad leg wound, Tim isn’t terribly talkative with his more voluble pal, Dave (Ben Hindell).

Thanks to perky realtor Heidi Lipton (Marci Adilman, nailing an American archetype), Tim rents a beach cottage in which to recuperate and reflect. His neighbor is Clare O’Neil (Traci Ann Wolfe), who is grappling with at-first-unspecified grief, possibly related to the events of Sept. 11, but maybe not.

Lithe, blonde, good-boned Clare is cover-girl pretty and far from dumb, but unable to make sense of the overwhelming, senseless loss that has turned her life inside out. It emerges that she left a handsome home to drown her sorrow in alcohol — so as not to drown herself, if the way she stares at the mighty tides at all hours is any indication.

Living with grief that refuses to be subsumed in distraction, central protags have been thrown off course. By proxy, the pic illuminates in small, relevant ways, how the nation itself has presumably veered off course in recent years.

With it’s delicate, tentative rhythms and spare dialogue, narrative both bucks and embraces the notion of “getting on with” one’s life in the wake of tragedy.

Stand-out scenes include Tim’s visit to his father in a retirement home, Tim’s domestic helicopter outing with his former employer who served in Vietnam, and Clare’s tense meeting with her patrician mother who cares for her daughter, but may care about appearances more.

Unhurried yet suspenseful venture may strike some as needlessly downbeat, but pic’s choice to often let dismay trump solace is what gives it its strength.

Divergence

Production

A Cinema Five Films presentation of a Patrick J. Donnelly film. Produced by Meg Sudlik, Christopher Zimmer, Michael Garza. Executive producer, Patrick J. Donnelly. Directed, written by Patrick J. Donnelly.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Donnelly; editor, Robert Mead; music, Ronen Landa; art director, Brandon Cheek; set decorator, Adrina Garibian; costume designer, Lynne Curtis; sound (Dolby), Justin Gray; assistant director, Yori Tondrowski. Reviewed at Avignon Film Festival (competing), June 22, 2007. Running time: 113 MIN.
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