Daria Gamliel for Cinetalk.net

To make a serious issue light and amusing without making a mockery of it is not an easy feat. But husband-and-wife team Inon and Natalie Shampanier have done just that. With its humorous edge, Paper Spiders explores mental health with sensitivity and airiness. This is not to say it is fluffy or silly. The bond between mother and daughter is created so realistically, that the viewer really feels it as it starts to fall apart.

As Dawn (the mom), Lili Taylor shines – as always. Young co-star Stefania LaVie Owen tackles the daughter role (Melanie) with a delicate gusto. The pair pulls in the viewer with cute banter before making it clear that something isn’t quite right with Dawn. As her mental state worsens, Melanie tries to seek assistance in dealing with her mother’s paranoid delusional disorder. However, help cannot be given to those who refuse help or deny there is a problem.

The film is the right amount of engaging and heartbreaking. Like Melanie, viewers might feel angry or sad about the events that occur. The script, however doesn’t rely on waterworks to make its point. Paper Spiders is full of drama and tension without being melodramatic or pretentious. It does not seek to penalize the victim of delusional disorder, nor to recite a 10-Step program on how to cure it. Instead it tries to normalize a dialogue about mental health issues so that perhaps one day, the discussion can be had without the stigma.

Working with Cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, the Shampaniers give careful attention to sets and setting. Subtle symbols are present, such as the color yellow – often known in Cinema to represent obsession and insanity. Conversely, it is also sometimes employed to represent innocence. In this case, Melanie’s innocence is definitely being compromised. In many real-life cases, the sudden need to act like the grownup has destroyed the lives of youngsters. To take care of an adult who has lost sight of reality, Melanie begins to lose bits of herself. It is at these moments that a person has to decide to save their parent or save themself.

Paper Spiders carries a large weight on its shoulders, but handles it delicately and realistically. Cinetalk’s fave pick of Pendance.

https://pendancefilmfestival.ca/