Cavedweller (2004)

Another good film from Cholodenko

Following the death of long-time lover and rocker Randall (Kevin Bacon), Delia (Kyra Sedgwick) packs up their resentful daughter, Cissy (Regan Arnold), leaves California and heads for home in rural Georgia. Even though Delia has been gone for more than a decade, she’s still remembered in Cayro as the woman who ran off and left her husband and two small daughters for a passing rock star. In her long absence, Delia’s two abandoned daughters Dede (April Mullen) and Amanda (Vanessa Zima) have been raised by her husband’s sour, wizened mother. Delia never divorced husband Clint (Aidan Quinn). He is now extremely ill and close to death.

Through flashbacks, Delia’s abusive marriage to Clint is revealed. Leaving a gun-toting, abusive husband was as easy as stepping into Randall’s tour bus and being whisked away to California. There’s not much point in comparing Clint to Randall–even Delia’s abandoned daughters understand her choice when they pick over their mother’s rock-star memorabilia.

Cavedweller is the study of a portion of Delia’s life. She’s not particularly easy to like, and while it’s perfectly understandable that she left her revolting husband, it’s not so acceptable that she left her two daughters behind. The film doesn’t waste scenes on any heartfelt confessions/motivation speeches. We don’t, for example, see Delia beating her chest in demonstrative scenes of self-recrimination. Whatever remorse or regret Delia feels remains, for the most part, largely unspoken. Delia’s decision to return to Georgia appears to be guilt-driven. It seems simplistic for Delia to expect an ‘instant relationship’ with her two estranged daughters, but her decision to return was as easy to make as the decision to leave in the first place. The hard part is living with those decisions. Just as Delia lived with the guilt of abandoning her two daughters, now she must live with the decision to return. Delia’s rugged determination is clearly part of her nature. Kyra Sedgwick delivers a good, solid portrayal of a character who makes an irreversible decision but then finally faces it.

Director Lisa Cholodenko’s career seems to focus on portraits of unfathomable women (Syd played by Radha Mitchell in High Art and Jane played by Frances McDormand in Laurel Canyon). Delia is an equally difficult character. The film is just a fragment of Delia’s story. We really have no idea about her life with Randall–except for some hints that he was less-than-perfect, and the end of the film doesn’t really bring any conclusions. But Cholodenko’s female characters are never that easy to read, and in a sense, their stories are never ‘over’. Intriguing ciphers, they present a puzzle for the viewer’s interpretation, and this is why I enjoy this director’s films so much. Cavedweller is based on the Dorothy Allison novel.

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