From the earliest frames of “The Maiden,” there’s a rare understanding of what it means to live on the outskirts that only deepens as Graham Foy’s feature debut wears on. It isn’t just that Colton (Marcel T. Jiménez) and Kyle (Jackson Sluiter) skateboard along the side of a railroad that you know makes where they live merely the scenery on the way to somewhere else, but they themselves live on the fringes of even that community, entertaining themselves in the half-built houses in the area and leaving their mark in graffiti on the bridges that would connect the town to other places. The future would appear to promise more of the same for the teens, who can’t be called rebels when there isn’t even actually much around to fight against, but it doesn’t keep Colton from asking his friend what he expects to do ten years from now, to which Kyle replies “music would be sick…” but concludes, “I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow.”
In fact, tomorrow isn’t promised in “The Maiden” where Kyle’s fate is decided far sooner than either he or Colton could expect, thought to be involved in a train accident after which he is never seen by his friend again. Yet Kyle would seem to be everywhere for Colton, his legacy left in spray paint around the city in “Maiden” tags, except for high school where his absence seems pronounced when there isn’t anyone else he can really talk to. He doesn’t know it, but in that way he’s like Whitney (Hayley Ness), a classmate at the school in Alberta though their paths don’t cross. Pouring her feelings into notebooks when social interactions would seem to result in hives, she is nowhere closer than Colton in feeling as if she’s a part of something and in preventing them from meeting, Foy shrewdly designs the drama as a circle where the middle appears unreachable in so many ways, not only tragic in the reasons for why Whitney and Colton disengage, but what’s lost when they both feel it’s easier not to.
Although it shouldn’t be spoiled, “The Maiden” is able to make this point in such a way cinematically you can’t imagine it otherwise, structured in three revolutions occurring on the same axis so that when it spins out into another realm, the effect is both transcendent and organic all at once. While the performances are raw, Foy and cinematographer Kelly Jeffrey blend them seamlessly into an aesthetic that is casually beautiful and elusive, finding the feeling of oppression for the small town residents coming from within when it’s nothing but clear skies outside. The idea that there’s something always lurking underneath the surface becomes an animating force as Foy slips in contradictions that suggest everyone is a bit different than you make them out to be, such as the cowboy in school who is more liable to blast Daft Punk than Chris Stapleton in his pickup. When there’s more to all involved than you could ever know, getting to know even a little bit than you might otherwise in “The Maiden” comes across as a real gift.
“The Maiden” will screen again at the Giornate Deglia Autori section of the Venice Film Festival on September 9th at 7:15 pm at the Sala Corinto and will next screen at the Toronto Film Fest on September 12th at 6:20 pm at the Scotiabank, and September 15th and September 17th at 9:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.