Los Angeles Times

Cries of Silence

Friday October 3, 1997

     In the aftermath of Hurricane Camille in 1969, an unconscious girl of about 15 is found lying on a Mississippi island shore along the Gulf of Mexico. She is rescued by a young doctor who has just returned to her nearby hometown. The girl regains consciousness but cannot speak. The islanders swear they have never seen her before.
     Writer-producer-director Avery Crounse has thus set in motion both a mystery and an intimate drama in his stunningly well-wrought "Cries of Silence." With quiet determination, the film pits gentle, loving gestures of concern against the harsh forces of fear and ignorance.
     With widespread destruction in the wake of the hurricane, the doctor, Dorrie Walsh (Kathleen York), who is staying with her mother Rose (Karen Black), has little recourse but to shelter the girl herself. In honor of the hurricane that swept her into her life, Dorrie decides to call her Camille.
     Camille (Erin Buchanan) immediately seeks out the shelter of the kitchen table, under which she rocks herself endlessly. Dorrie, although trained as a surgeon, not as a psychiatrist, commences studying Camille intensely as she tries to communicate with her. She gradually becomes convinced that Camille has been a victim of sensory deprivation--that her family or guardians for whatever reason had kept her locked up and hidden away.
     Quite literally, Dorrie has no idea of the challenges facing her in her attempt to help Camille. Not only are the islanders clamming up but she also meets resistance from social service bureaucrats and from her new employer, a local doctor (Ed Nelson) who heads a clinic. They declare Camille mentally retarded and want her institutionalized. If Dorrie wants to save Camille, she realizes, she must first of all unlock the secret of her identity.
     With impressive sensitivity and skill, Crounse unfolds his film on two levels simultaneously--as an increasingly tense suspense drama and as a study of relationships--how Camille's plight impacts upon Dorrie, who has just recovered from a nervous breakdown, and how Camille affects Dorrie's relationship with her heretofore distant mother, who has long resented her role as a single mother. (Dorrie's father apparently either died or left the family when she was a child.)
     At the same time Crounse is evoking the evolving relationships between Dorrie, Camille and Rose with images of poetic tenderness, he is also depicting harrowing scenes of lives lived in a remote backwater where a single individual can wield terrible power over others.
     Crounse matches his visual sense with his ability to direct his outstanding cast to ensemble performances. York is the film's driving force, but Black and Buchanan are no less impressive. Nelson heads a notable supporting cast that also includes Ellen Crawford, a haunting presence as a victim of chronic terror, Michael Genovese and DeVere Jehl.
     Nigel Holton's elegiac score is outstanding in the way it heightens the moods of "Cries of Silence," a film of continual surprises and consistent high quality.

Cries of Silence, 1997. Unrated. A Showcase Entertainment release of an Elysian Pictures production. Writer-director-producer Avery Crounse. Producers Nancy Nickerson, Michael Barnard. Executive producer Chris Baldwin. Cinematographers Michael Barnard, Wade Hanks, Randy Erikson. Editors Crounse, Barnard. Costumes Bernadette O'Brien. Music Nigel Holton. Production designer Randy Erikson. Art director Rando Schmook. Set decorator Asahel Cooper. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Kathleen York as Dorrie Walsh. Karen Black as Rose Walsh. Erin Buchanan as Camille. Ed Nelson as August Claiborne.

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