Sunday (1997)

*Sunday* opens with a chaotic blur of sights and sounds reminiscent of the way the world feels when you're only half awake -- nothing quite makes sense, voices and noises are explosively loud then fade into obscurity, photons stab through the slit of barely open eyes, and none of connections in your brain close all the way. It's the most confusing, annoying part of the day, and the way the world looks on a particular Sunday morning to Oliver, skulking under covers at a homeless men's shelter. Oliver is a misfit in this place of misfits -- he doesn't quite belong among these particular down and outers.

Out on the street, Oliver (David Suchet) encounters Madeleine (Lisa Harrow), an unemployed British actress, toting a half-dead palm tree, who mistakes him for film director Matthew Delacorta. He plays along -- something about Madeleine's hungry desperation forces him to embrace the falsehood for her sake, if not his own.

For the rest of a strange, emotionally charged Sunday, both Oliver and Madeleine cling to deception, wallowing in denial out of a persistent need to believe that the circumstances they find themselves in are not really their own, that the aimless Sundays of their everyday existence don't really belong to them. They are merely playing roles, like actors trapped in an Italian neo-realist movie, lying to each other, and to themselves, investing their considerable egos in the belief, against all evidence, that they are only pretending at lives that are beneath them. He's not really a homeless man, just an unemployed IBMer down on his luck, or, perhaps, a famous film director researching a film on a down-and-out IBMer. She's not really an unsuccessful actress, just a displaced Brit stuck in Queens, far from the footlights of the RSC.

*Sunday* is full of secrets and half-truths, mysteries that are never fully illuminated. Both Madeleine and Oliver, with their slight touches of gentility, are so out of place in their settings that it's easy to believe that they really do belong somewhere else, in some other life. Yet, they often reveal their true desperation in hungry sex and passionate conversations. Vignettes of the aimless lives of other men from the homeless shelter, rather than providing contrast, tend to emphasize how much Madeleine and Oliver really are lost, how much they are like the people they can't bear to associate with.

*Sunday*, written by Woodstockers Jonathan Nossiter, who also directs, and James Lasdun, took the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Cramped locations and natural, wintry light add to the gritty realism and bleakness of this emotionally stark film, but persistent problems with boom mics dropping into the frame are an unwanted distraction, a telltale sign of this otherwise accomplished film's low budget.

What *Sunday* does *not* suffer from is amateurish acting. The performances of Harrow and Suchet (best known as TV's Hercule Poirot) are rich and engrossing, poignant and mysterious. Both actors crawl inside the skins of their sad, lost characters, investing them with a dignity that fuels deceptions and self-delusions that are, under the circumstances, almost heroic.