A film whose subject is inconsolable sadness has never looked so rich and vibrant and felt so warm and inviting. “Take This Waltz” is Sarah Polley’s second directorial feature, (her first being the highly praised “Away From Her” starring Julie Christie), and Ms. Polley has certainly proven herself to be a sensitive, bold and emotionally resonant filmmaker. Polley is widely recognized for her work as one of Canada’s most talented actors, appearing in offbeat, independent films from directors ranging from Hal Hartley (“No Such Thing”) to Atom Egoyan. Even as a young actor in Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter,” it was Polley’s eerily mature and elusive performance that proved to be the backbone of the film. She could convey a wide array of emotions and thoughts through silence and stillness that would be hard pressed to find in actors twice her age.
The same could be said of her talents as a director. In the opening scene in “Take This Waltz,” even the simple act of baking muffins is fraught with a sense of yearning. Michelle Williams compliments Ms. Polley’s vision with a performance that is at once intelligent, sexy and vulnerable as Margot, a young woman who is the personification of the film’s melancholia. Margot appears to be living a fine life. She is married to Lou (Seth Rogen) a loving, playful husband; lives in a house in the Toronto suburbs, and is supported by good friends and family (including Sarah Silverman as Lou’s recovering alcoholic sister).
But there is fear, sorrow and a sense of emptiness that is gnawing at her. Above all, Margot fears the unknown. This fear is extrapolated in one of the film’s first scenes at an airport, when Margot reveals her phobia of connecting flights: “I’m afraid of connections…I don’t like being in between things.” Ms. Polley is refreshingly unapologetic with the obviousness of her metaphors, and we can see how Margot’s fear of connections—material and intimate—affects her relationship with Lou, which varies from sweet and loving to stilted and cold.
Ms. Polley also has a penchant for grounding improbable circumstances in reality, such as the series of events in which Margot meets kindred spirit and potential love interest, Daniel (Luke Kirby). The alarmingly raw sexual discourse between Margot and Daniel during the first few hours of meeting each other is almost non-existent between Margot and her husband Lou, whose interactions, even sexual, are expressed through cutesy baby-talk. I am still trying to figure out whether Margot and Lou’s infantile interactions mark their intimacy as a couple or their emotional detachment. A tender seduction scene between Lou and Margot that is devoid of words and physical touch may disprove the latter.
“Take This Waltz” is about one woman’s journey towards finding happiness. Regardless of the path Margot decides to take, Polley makes one thing clear: melancholia is something imbedded deep within, and sometimes, the longing for contentment cannot be sated by outside circumstances, whether through true love, parenthood or friendship. The title of “Take This Waltz” is a homage to the eponymous Leonard Cohen song:
Take this waltz, take this waltz
Take it’s broken waist in your hand
For some people, accepting sadness as a flawed but faithful dance partner may just be a way of life.