‘Sew Torn’ Review: Freddy Macdonald’s Strange, Striking Neo-Noir Is A Great Discovery – SXSW

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“Choices, choices…,” says the narrator, a young seamstress, in this strange and striking debut from Freddy Macdonald. A neo-noir in the early Coens tradition, Sew Torn also features a bold tri-part structure in which the heroine, Barbara (Eve Connolly) — like Lola before her in Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run — gets three standalone chances to pursue a different destiny after stumbling on the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong on a quiet country road.

It begins with image of a reel of red cotton, a briefcase and a dead body. This is Barbara, who wonders what we’ll make of her story (“Perhaps you’d relate to my isolation, my need. Or perhaps you’d see my lack of morality”). Macdonald’s film then loops back to explain who Barbara got here, a tale of chance and coincidence that reshuffles its characters in a way that always surprises, ultimately creating a tight, genuine ensemble out of its seemingly random supporting cast.

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When we meet her, Barbara is still recovering from the death of her mother, who has left her in charge of the family business, a small-town haberdashery called Duggan’s. Her mother’s specialty was a unique combination of sound and needlepoint, which is why she proudly called her little shop “Home of the Talking Portraits.” The shop clearly is going out of business, but, even with no work to do, Barbara has forgotten about her only appointment for the day: a fitting with customer Grace Vessier (Caroline Goodall), who is about to get married for the third time — and “everything needs to be perfect.”

The route to Grace’s house is through a stunning Alpine valley; for reasons never explained, the film takes place in Switzerland, even though the characters speak English and pay each other in francs, not euros. And when Barbara arrives, Grace is withering about Barbara’s flakiness, sniffing, “At least your mother was mildly reliable, not running her business into the ground.”

Matters come to a head when a button falls off Grace’s dress, and Barbara, in a sulk, flicks it down an air vent. Grace sends her home to get a replacement, a fateful moment that will change Barbara’s life forever.

Turning left out of Grace’s road she finds two badly wounded bikers, a briefcase, two guns and bags of a suspicious white powder strewn across the asphalt. Pulling her “mobile seamstress” car — easily identifiable by the huge promotional cotton reel mounted on the back — Barbara begins to mull over the alternatives: “Perfect crime… Call the police… Drive away.” To start with, she chooses the first option, putting her skills with a needle and thread to ingenious use and then driving off with the briefcase, which presumably is stuffed with cash.

To avoid spoilers, suffice to say it doesn’t quite go quite like that; indeed, the charm of Sew Torn is how it takes a well-worn genre narrative and disrupts it with so many quirks and eccentricities that it takes on an identity all of its own. As Barbara proceeds to live out every possibility of the scenario, the film’s small, core cast come into sharper focus; as well as Barbara and Grace, there’s Mrs. Engel (Knives Out’s Greatnana Wanetta), the area’s cop and wedding notary; Beck (Thomas Douglas), the drug mule; Josh (Calum Worthy), the crime boss’ reluctant son; and Hudson Armitage (John Lynch), the scowling villain of the peace who cracks the same unfunny joke in every iteration of the story.

Its oddness certainly will be frustrating to those who like their crime hardboiled, but admirers of The Kid Detective and all of Rian Johnson’s work up to and including Poker Face will find plenty to enjoy. It’s also a great vehicle for Connolly, who handles Barbara’s self-sabotaging vulnerability with a deceptive level of steeliness and the gravitas of a younger Claire Danes.

Most of all, though, it’s a great discovery, the kind of film festivals were made for and streamers should fill their boots with, as counterprogramming to the big stuff. It will be fascinating to see where destiny takes Freddy Macdonald next.

Title: Sew Torn
Festival: SXSW (Narrative Feature)
Sales agent: UTA
Director: Freddy Macdonald
Screenwriters: Freddy Macdonald, Fred Macdonald
Cast: Eve Connolly, Calum Worthy, John Lynch, K Callan, Ron Cook, Thomas Douglas, Werner Biermeier, Veronika Herren-Wenger, Caroline Goodall
Running time: 1 hr 35 min

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