Unfolding (2003)
a short film by Christian Vuissa

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LDSFilm.com Review
Written and directed by the award-winning Austrian filmmaker Christian Vuissa, "Unfolding" is about a teenager named Lila (Kristen Hill) who finds a connection with her father (Kenneth Norris), despite the fact that as long as she can remember he has suffered from a mental disease (probably early onset Alzheimer's) which leaves him seemingly healthy on the outside but essentially unresponsive to his surroundings and incapable of talking to anybody.

Lila has long since given up on visiting her father in the institution where he lives. But when looking for an old record player in her attic, Lila discovers a cache of artwork, poetry, home movies and photographs that belonged to her father. In a powerful and evocative scene Lila these physical objects from times past draw Lila into the life of her father as he was in times past: an artist, a writer, an immigrant from Europe, a young man in love with Lila's mother. The experience is a shocking revelation to Lila, and prompts her to visit her father for the first time in years.

Accompanied by her best friend Max (Levi Larsen), Lila makes the trip to visit her father, and despite his condition, she feels she might really be able to communicate with him. Max's own father (played by news broadcaster Phil Riesen) is healthy, but distant and absorbed in his political career. The contrast between Max and Lila's families is poignant but not forced. Max and Lila hatch a plan to draw out something of the younger man from within Lila's father. Their plan is surprising, entertaining, and yields a powerfully moving climax to the film.

I write about a lot of films. I enjoy describing a new and unfamiliar film to readers interested in hearing about it. I usually don't hesitate to do this. But let me be up front about what happened with Christian Vuissa's new short film "Unfolding." It has been many weeks since I first saw it. Although I was honored to be given the chance to see it before its release on video and DVD, I have procrastinated writing about it. I simply feel that my words are inadequate, and that this film deserves a far more qualified film reviewer to do it justice.

I'm simply a fan of good, entertaining films. As such, I can wholeheartedly recommend "Unfolding." If you love a good story, uplifting ideas, superb and entirely natural acting, compelling images, and magnificent music perfectly supporting the film, you will find all of it here.

These are the types of readily evident film characteristics which I am most comfortable describing. In all of these areas director Christian Vuissa has been unsparing in his commitment to excellence and a professional quality production.

What is wonderful about "Unfolding" is that in addition to excelling in an artistic and cinematic sense, it is also morally excellent and truly inspiring.

Many films by young (and even more experienced) Latter-day Saint filmmakers are content to do one or the other, either strive for high production values and artistic standards, or skimp on those aspects and simply transfer to the medium of film an inspiring story or message. Inspirational videos absolutely have their place and purpose. I love watching many of them. I have little complaint with a film that has a wonderful heart and message, even though its lacks in other areas. Such a film achieves its goals and speaks to its target audience even if it has little potential to reach an audience interested primarily in form and craft rather than content or message. Yet it is a breath of fresh to encounter a film such as "Unfolding," which is so much more, which doesn't rest merely on "being clean" or inspiring on the one hand, or being "daring" or well made on the other.

Yet even as I describe "Unfolding" in these terms, I recognize that there is so much more there that I am unable to convey. It is clear that this is a film which works on many levels, and which rewards multiple viewings. Each time I watched it I picked up on nuances and significant gestures and images that I had not seen before. The way scenes are framed and lit and even the objects which populate the corners of a scene feel both natural and significant, enhancing the film's impact without calling attention to themselves.

The music is particularly instrumental in enhancing the film's emotional impact. The score features an original musical score by professional film composer Thomas C. Baggaley and two songs by a Lindsay Smith, talented contemporary singer whose lyrical delivery blends folk and light rock sensibilities. These combine with each other and with the film's visuals elements smoothly and organically.

One impressive aspect of the score involves the Lila's quest for an old record player, which is what leads to her pivotal trip to the attic. She wants the record player so she can listen to a classic Rachmaninov album that she found in a used record store. Baggaley's score heavily incorporates a newly orchestrated and performed version of Rachmaninov's actual Opus 23, but then blends it seamlessly into original orchestral music.

Without copying anybody, Vuissa seems conversant in the filmic language of Godard, Truffaut, Polanski, Besson, Hitchcock and other masters of the craft of filmmaking. I only point this out for those few readers who may be interested in the very best in filmmaking artistry: "Unfolding" has it. But there is nothing elitist about "Unfolding." It is also accessible and enjoyable for audiences (such as myself) whose favorites include "Legacy" or "Johnny Lingo" or "Saturday's Warrior."

In these qualities, "Unfolding" is -- not surprisingly -- quite similar to Vuissa's previous film, the award-winning "Roots & Wings." Both films bridge the gap between purely artistic and purely inspirational filmmaking. Among recent feature films they can be best be compared, even in their look and tone, to Richard Dutcher's "God's Army" and "Brigham City." While Dutcher's feature films were undeniably mounted on a bigger scale, Vuissa's short films exhibit greater attention to detail and refinement, with stories that are more subtle and open to different interpretations.

Is "Unfolding" a better film than "Roots & Wings"? I think that it is. "Unfolding" is more multi-layered, more expert in technical details, and moved me much more deeply on an emotional level. But I like "Roots & Wings" more, because it is more unique and purposeful in its premise. The "setup" for for "Roots & Wings" -- a Catholic man's perspective of his family members joining the Church -- is simple to describe and fills a valuable niche. The characters are Latter-day Saints or Catholics in identifiable and important ways.

"Unfolding" has no denominational or ethnic demarcations. It may appeal to a broad general audience, but it has less appeal to a specifically Latter-day Saint audience. Perhaps the film's biggest drawback is that its basic themes are not unique or even unusual: learning about one's parents and dealing with mental illness. Although "Unfolding" is a joy to watch and handles these subjects in interesting, original ways, it is debatable whether the film actually makes a distinctive and important contribution.

Perhaps "Unfolding" has distinct significance if it is taken not simply as a film about families or mental illness, but as a specific exploration of the scriptural verse on its cover: "He shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers." In this regard, the film resonates powerfully, although its meanings are not always on the surface. These themes lie below an enjoyable, moving, and beautifully told story.

"Unfolding" CLOSING credits as they appear in the film

written & directed by
Christian Vuissa

Kristen Hill

Levi Larsen

Reb Fleming
Kenneth Norris

Phil Riesen
Dan McDonald

Director of Photography
Brandon Christensen

Production Design by
Ludwig Einklang
David Payne

Costume Designer
Corina Thompson

Casting by
Catrine McGregor

Original Score by
Thomas C. Baggaley

Edited by
Ludgwig Einklang
Bryan Lefler

Produced by
Christian Vuissa

Unit Production Manager William Boaz
1st Assistant Director Jason Conforto
Faculty Advisor Stan Ferguson

Lila Kristen Hill
Max Levi Larsen
Lila's Mom Reb Fleming
Lila's Dad Kenneth Norris
Max's Dad Phil Riesen
Rick Dan McDonald
Nurse Becky Heiss
Young Dad Isaac Howard
Young Mom Alecia Maher
Young Lila Lindsey Lasson
Bookstore Owner Richard Horsley
Police Officer Jodi Nix

Script Supervisor Marta Becerril
Scrapbooks Design Michele Brummer
Oliver Chipping
Isaac Howard
Poems Ludwig Einklang
Flipbook Design Oliver Chipping
Painting of Lila Donna Corno
Scrapbooks Created by Melissa Clater
Super 8 Footage & Photographs Mark Noakes
Christian Vuissa
Set Dresser Kirsten Vuissa
Magnus Henriksen
Jonas Sappington
2nd Unit Camera Christian Vuissa
Hot Air Balloon Pilots Erwin Oertli
Kieth Limrock
Casket Provided by John Platt
Production Sound Mixer Clark Edmunds
Boom Operator Marty Stiles
Sound Design KC Blake
Chief Lighting Technician Brandon Christensen
Key Grip Jason Conforto
William Boaz
Special Effects Clark Edmunds
Make-up/Hair Corina Thompson
Digital Transfer Engineer David F. Nauta
Color Corrections Steve Kons
Title Animation Jeffrey Whitehead
Online Editor Wynn Hougaard
1st Assistant Camera Ty Arnold
2nd Assistant Camera Dan Barnett
Glidecam Operator Travis Cline
Dolly Grip Jason Conforto
Extras Coordinator Cindy Ferguson
Still Photographer Merete Grimmer
Craft Services Kirsten Vuissa
Merete Grimmer
Production Assistants Kathleen Conforto
Brandon Osmond
Merete Grimmer
Laura Allen

Amy Ames
Emily Asplund
Holly Baldwin
Brigham Barnes
Marta Becerril
Andrew Berthrong
Michele Brummer
Brendon Bybee
Oliver Chipping
Jared Clark
Travis Cline
Jamison Conforto
Jason Conforto
Natalie Conforto
Cindy Ferguson
Scott Foust
Sara Fryday
Billy & Becca Griffin
Amy Gueck
Magnus Henrickson
Melody Law
James Lyons
Dan McDonald
Justin W. Nadolski
Lara Pastor
David Payne
Lindsay Smith
Corina Thompson
John Troutman
Kirsten Vuissa
Anika Vuissa


Written & Performed by The Justin Cash Trio

Thinks I Like
Written & Performed by Lindsay Smith

It Is No Mistake
Written & Performed by Lindsay Smith

Rachmaninov Op. 23
Violin by Jeremy Starr

Special Thanks to

Carma de Jong Anderson
Ryan Arvay
Justin Cash
Cambria Christensen
Jason Faller
Cindy Ferguson
Ira & Mary Lou Fulton
Gooch Home
Carolyn Hanson
Richard & Rick Horsley
Danielle Isom
Emily Lambson
Darl Larsen
Melody Law
Tom Lefler
Alecia Maher
Mike & Jenni Mahoney
Michael Mustang
Todd Orchard
Raquel Smith
Kirsten Wunderyoll

Theatre and Media Arts Department
LDS Motion Picture Studio
Heber City Police Department
Courtyard at Jamestown
East Lake Care Center
Community Thrift Store
Green iver Motel
Provo City Cemetary
Pioneer Book

Burger Supreme
Cafe Rio
Cookies by Design
Doc's Pizza Buffet
Einstein Bagels
Frontier Pies
Jamba Juice
Krispy Kreme Donuts
Los Hermanos
Olive Garden
Pier 49 Pizza
Souper Salad
Subway Sandwich
Village Inn

The production of this film was made possible
by the generous contributions of

Oscarson Discovery Grant
Lucille King Scholarship
Orca Grant
Final Cut Grant
Media Arts Department Grant

The events and characters depicted in this film
are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.

This film is protected under the laws of
the United States and other countries.
Unauthorized duplication, distrabution,
or exhibition may result in civil liability
and criminal persecution.

© 2003 Christian Vuissa / Momentum Pictures

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Web page created 9 April 2003. Last modified 9 April 2003.