Review by Mark Schwab
May 26th, 2017
Illness, grief and God come together in writer/director Kalainithan Kalaichelvan's achingly beautiful short film STELLA MARIS. Not having anything in common with the 1918 Mary Pickford classic, Kalaichelvan creates a spare tale of a widowed mother named Lydia (JoAnn Nordstrom) being a caregiver for her seriously ill son, Eli (Maddox Hayward). The setting seems to be a small 19th century town that centers around the local church run by Father Joseph (Jim Garrow). It seems that the local choir production is upon them and Lydia is determined to have Eli ready to perform in it. Father Joseph is kind but skeptical obviously given Eli's health and his inability to attend practices. No matter, says Lydia, she will personally make sure he will be ready.
The actual plot of STELLA MARIS is pretty secondary to the atmosphere of grief and caring for the sick. Despite the heavy subject, it is directed to be more moving than depressing. Somber but not draining. In fact it is lovely the way it uses true a true filmic style instead of some shaky cam indie grittiness. Every shot has been so soulfully composed that it reminded me of Ingmar Bergman's WINTER LIGHT in its meditation on faith and the testing of it in the face of impending tragedy. It's the type film that would be perfect to see in an arthouse theater on a rainy night in downtown Portland then get coffee afterwards.
It really was a pleasure seeing an independent short film create such a visual palette - rich in emotion and depth with picture-perfect production design. STELLA MARIS is a mature, intense and emotional piece that richly deserves being categorized as an artistic cinema triumph. I know his name is tough to spell and pronounce but remember the name Kalainithan Kalaichelvan - certainly a filmmaker to watch.