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Review: 32 Weeks – “A formidable achievement”

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Nicole Souza and Scott Bender in 32 Weeks

Our memories are what help shape us as people.  They aid us in making decisions about our future based on the events of our past.  But what if some of those memories go missing?  Can we be as educated about moving forward without the influences of our past?  What if others are left to narrate our experiences?  These ideas are explored in writer/director Brian Cavallaro‘s indie drama, 32 Weeks.

Cole (Nicole Souza) is a young woman living in California who we meet as she is making her way to a friend’s party.  Next we see her, she is waking up in hospital after having suffered a head injury in a car accident.  Her best friend Hannah (Nicole Rainteau) is by her side, but Cole’s injuries have left her without any memory of the last 32 weeks of her life.  Hannah attempts to help her friend regain some memories, guiding her through photos and social media posts, largely to no avail.  It is only Cole’s connection to music that starts to trigger snippets of her past to slowly return.

In that recent past are two men who entered Cole’s life during the last eight months.  There is the enigmatic Warren (Cameron Tagge) who checks in on her after he hears of her accident, but whose last text exchange with Cole was anything but cordial, and then there is the affable Simon (Scott Bender) her apparent most recent love interest who is eager to reinsert himself as her boyfriend.  Both these men were clear fixtures in Cole’s forgotten past, but who in her present is the reliable narrator, or who might be gaslighting her now?

Shot entirely in Santa Monica with a two person crew, there is something to admire about writer/director Brian Cavallaro’s ambition here.  Amnesia films aren’t necessarily new (see 50 First Dates, Memento, Before I go to Sleep) but 32 Weeks manages to navigates Cole’s memory loss in an intriguing way, and our introduction to Cole’s character happens entirely through those memories.  We move back and forth between present and past through her and Simon’s courtship and her memories of her time with Warren.  But, as beautifully shot as many of these scenes are they never present Cole as anything other than the woman these two men are orbiting.  We see that she teaches violin lessons, but otherwise there’s little backstory and few clues as to who Cole really is, outside of a woman discovering herself through the eyes of these men.  This may have worked better if Cole was devoid of any memory at all, but in losing only 32 weeks of her past she seems to have forgotten herself entirely.  Cole’s main goal out of remembering the last eight months seems not to be in regaining any sense of self, but instead in finding out which man she should be with.

32 Weeks is easily anchored by the performance of Nicole Souza who manages to keep things engaging.  Her scenes with Scott Bender have an ease to them and there is something innately charming about Cole with Simon, despite his dad-joke, man-child tendencies.  Alongside Cameron Tagge, the trio of main players do keep things interesting as the mystery to Cole’s past unfolds and the film will have you questioning just what is real and what is not.  It is at its best when slowly revealing the details of Cole’s puzzling memories.

However the last act in 32 Weeks has a tonal shift. What starts as a personal and slowly unfolding dramatic mystery devolves quite suddenly to  ‘movie-of-the-week’ territory that feels out of place.  Cavallaro never quite settles on whether he wants the film to be a drama or a thriller, and because the film never fully invests in either it feels unfulfilling in its conclusion.  The limitations of 32 Weeks are not in its budget nor its crew-size, in fact it is a formidable achievement considering both, but instead in a lack of development and in never fully embracing its genre.  Like its main character, Cole, the film never fully finds its sense of self.

32 Weeks, after having runs at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and The Rome International Film Festival, is now available as a digital release.

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