Like his prior indies "Virgil Bliss" and "Milk and Honey," writer-director Joe Maggio's "Paper Covers Rock" is a tightly focused drama about a character precariously re-entering society after institutionalization.

Like his prior indies “Virgil Bliss” and “Milk and Honey,” writer-director Joe Maggio’s “Paper Covers Rock” is a tightly focused drama about a character precariously re-entering society after institutionalization. Billed as “Incidental Film No. 1″ –commencing a planned series of 10 features inspired by Kieslowski’s “Decalogue” — the tale of a young woman’s shaky first weeks following a suicide attempt is quietly involving. Like the helmer’s earlier exercises, it lacks the flash or star appeal to make much of a decent theatrically, but should find supporters as a smallscreen item.

Kindergarten-aged Lola (Juliet Stills) gets up and makes her own breakfast — clearly not for the first time. She finds her mom, Sam (Jeannine Kaspar), motionless in bed, with a plastic bag tied around her head.

Two months later, Sam is released from psychiatric care to move in with Manhattan-based elder sister Ed (Sayra Player), an arrangement that seems unlikely to go well, as one is still deep in a depressive funk and the other is the kind of hypermanaging type who demands shoes be taken off at her door. Sam isn’t ready to face her daughter yet, or even open a pile of urgent letters from Lola’s father, whom the child has moved back in with.

She does make some progress, getting a night-janitor job at exec Ed’s own office, where she is slyly wooed by day worker Brian (Mark Alhadeff) — though their first/last date turns out to be an awkward disaster. Sam has a curiously adversarial relationship with her appointed shrink (Maggio regular Clint Jordan). And things get increasingly strained with Ed, exploding when Sam discovers some events that occurred during her absence.

Neither sister is an entirely sympathetic figure, between Sam’s glum, resentful self-absorption and Ed’s rigidity. Staying strictly in the present tense, Maggio leaves plenty of room for conjecture about their past conflicts; viewers may differ over whether the fadeout is itself ambiguous or a cliche resolution.

Made for $6,000 and shot over 10 days, pic has a pro sheen, but the focus is on the nuanced writing and committed perfs.

Paper Covers Rock

Production

An IFC Films release of a Concrete Films production. Produced by Joe Maggio. Executive producer, Matthew Myers. Co-producer, Clint Jordan. Directed, written by Joe Maggio.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-HD), Sam Shinn; editor, Seth E. Anderson; music, Sam Bisbee; sound, Maggio. Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival (U.S. Cinema), Mill Valley, Calif., Oct. 7, 2008. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Jeanine Kaspar, Sayra Player, Juliet Stills, Clint Jordan, Tom Brangle, Mark Alhadeff, Tom Vaught, Gabe Fazio.

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