Starring Ingrid Veninger, Hallie Switzer. Written and directed by Veninger. 82 min. Opens June 14 at the Royal.
Toronto writer/director Ingrid Veninger’s second solo feature, i am a good person/i am a bad person, seems to blur the lines between fiction and reality. It is, after all, an indie film about an indie filmmaker named Ruby, played by Veninger herself, who attempts to establish some mother-daughter bonding time with her 18-year-old, Sara (played by Veninger’s daughter Hallie Switzer), by bringing her along as an assistant while Ruby screens her film in a handful of European cities. There’s much meta-commentary about the tension surrounding a life of artistic pursuit, as well as some awkward, semi-desperation that permeates the film-fest scenes. At one point, a character even asks of Ruby’s film, “So it’s about you, right?”
While Veninger no doubt draws on her own experiences, i am a good person isn’t an exercise in self-indulgence. Her subtle artistry can clearly be seen in the separate journeys Ruby and Sara take when they part ways after their first stop on the tour. Ruby spends the balance of the film in Berlin, where she comes to terms with a simmering midlife crisis that’s part performance art and part self-discovery. Meanwhile, Sara’s trek to Paris gives her the time and space to deal with her just-discovered pregnancy. The two leads deliver striking performances: Veninger finds some serious pathos in slowly humanizing Ruby’s self-absorbed cliché of a lifestyle, and Switzer’s immediate likability becomes far more complicated once Sara is entranced by all the things the Office du Tourisme de Paris has to offer. (It’s a testament to Switzer’s talent that her character becomes more tragic the happier she appears.)
There’s not a lot of plot driving the film, and most of the conflict occurs between two people who share little more than one phone call once they’ve headed to different European cities. Still, there is a great deal at stake in i am a good person. Veninger’s naturalistic directorial approach and the film’s loose structure make this dual coming of age story unexpectedly absorbing.