“Sometimes I feel like I’m not inside myself,” Anna (Maggie Siff) confesses to a palm reader, acting as perhaps a final resort for the actress who has traveled back to her native Brooklyn after walking off the set of her popular TV show in Los Angeles in Elisabeth Subrin’s “A Woman, a Part.” The genie has left the bottle before Subrin trains her camera on Anna, though she introduces her in far happier times, frolicking in acting exercises with friends and collaborators Kate (Cara Seymour), a fellow actress, and Isaac (John Ortiz), a playwright, when the trio was young, financially struggling and free. Their history together is parsed out gradually in “A Woman, a Part,” but one experiences Anna’s fractured psyche that has resulted from her decision to leave the group to pursue a lucrative opportunity out west all at once, with the choice finally catching up to her after the Emmys and riches that have accompanied her turn as a forensic anthropologist no longer compensate for her deep discontent as an artist.
As if the world’s a stage, and she’s so used to performing that it seems like she’s seeing the scaffolding of the sets for the first time in her daily life, Anna’s sojourn to New York, which puts her job in jeopardy, is hardly the break her agent (Khandi Alexander) insists that she take — her history strewn about the city and though she often insists she doesn’t have a moment to herself, she appears to be constantly alone with her thoughts, even when she reconnects with Kate and Isaac on the occasion of Kate’s 50th birthday party to the guest of honor’s mild dismay. Shot meticulously by cinematographer Chris Dapkins, who previously collaborated on Tim Sutton’s “Memphis” and “Pavillion,” you rarely see Anna whole, often scattered across each scene as she attempts to piece herself back together and while she drifts the streets of the city, there’s no one you’d rather follow than Siff, who brings a confidence to the character even as Anna experiences a breakdown.
There’s some irony in the fact that Subrin’s film about an actor’s loss of creative fire has three leads who wouldn’t seem to know of such a condition, with the fiery turns from Seymour and Ortiz joining Siff’s in bringing a 25-year friendship with all of its ups and downs to vivid life. It also becomes crucial to sanding down the rough edges in Subrin’s narrative, which will occasionally hint at a plot point to come by inadvertently hijacking the present moment to do so. Yet for a feature debut, “A Woman, a Part” is certainly assured and elegantly fuses together the daring experimental work seen in Subrin’s gallery installations and shorts often dealing with identity with the demands of a compelling story. The way Subrin’s mosaic-like structuring comes together is quite rewarding, carefully calibrated in its haunting musical choices and nuanced performances, and whether or not Anna can rekindle her own passion, that zeal is felt throughout “A Woman, a Part,” which may not be all that charitable in envisioning the life of an actor, but demonstrates why it’s a pursuit worth chasing for so many.