A textbook example of an indie drama worth seeing primarily because of a remarkable lead performance, “The Colonel’s Bride” may be rotated to additional fest bases — and, down the road, might get limited homevid and VOD exposure — on the strength of character actor James DeForest Parker’s subtly affecting portrayal of a retired Army officer who makes a late-in-life bid for redemption, after vaguely defined wartime misdeeds, through his chaste relationship with a much-younger Vietnamese mail-order bride. Small-budget pic is self-consciously spare if not dramatically parched, and suggests that, sometimes, less really is just less. But Parker commands attention.
Introduced as an Army colonel turned successful real-estate broker in his early-to-mid 60s, Bill Best (Parker) comes off a gruff yet courteous figure while interacting with early-twentysomething Gwynn (Alicia Truong), who’s brought to the U.S. by a marriage broker (amusingly played by Zamvel Oyvetsky) as Bill’s prospective bride.
From the start, Bill explains — and Gwynn, despite her relative ignorance of English, understands — that theirs will be a platonic bond, due to Bill’s health issues. But while Gwynn is a dutiful housekeeper and companion after their wedding, Bill remains anxious and unsettled, for reasons writer-director Brent Stewart never fully clarifies.
Unfolding in an ascetic, stripped-to-essentials style that even Robert Bresson might have felt compelled to punch up with a few jokes, “The Colonel’s Bride” remains fascinating almost in spite of itself, primarily due to Parker’s controlled but compelling mix of sad-eyed courtliness and alcohol-fueled self-loathing. Production values are uneven — dim lighting doesn’t help much — and the pic seems to simply stop rather than conclude.