Patricia Rozema’s Mouthpiece and the Understanding of the Female Psyche: TIFF Review


Patricia Rozema has always been a rather underrated voice in Canadian cinema. When talking about Mouthpiece, it may not be easy to describe this sort of experiment from the get go, but it’s also something so admirable from the way in which it breaks down the psychology of a woman – manifesting from the idea that there’s more going on inside the mind of a single person, so much so it splits them into two. But in these fragments that Rozema makes us aware of on the screen, we also see another understanding of such perspectives that encourages people to see the world through another set of eyes. And through that lens, Rozema’s approach also feels incredibly empathetic, which also makes Mouthpiece resonate all the more. For as slight as its scope may be, you already feel there’s an incredible reach present in Mouthpiece that presents something special on the inside – because sometimes the greatest impact can come forward from an act of understanding.

Based on the play written by the film’s two lead actresses, Mouthpiece tells the story of the aspiring writer Cassandra – as she tries to come to terms with the sudden news of her mother’s death as she tries her best to take in the sort of person that she was, while also dealing with an internal conflict. The film shows us two sides of Cassandra, fittingly enough played by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, as she tries to find a sense of peace with her own mind while trying to remain truthful about how she felt while her mother was around. But of course, there comes another trial in trying to figure things out for herself – something that the outside world cannot see but only she can see. Through viewing a story like such through this lens you’re also watching a film all about the building blocks of what makes any human being the sort of person they are, but there’s a certain sympathy that both sides of the same person can elicit which opens your eyes to something new.

With the concept of two different sides of the same person being shown on the screen you would already think about a competition for which side feels more rational but in this instance you see confusion manifesting over one’s soul. In the two sides of Cassandra that we’re seeing, that confusion already feels best represented in the performances of both Nostbakken and Sadava – playing “short” and “tall” Cassandra. With the two having written the script upon which the film was based, you still find that the stage roots of this story are present but there’s also a great deal to admire about what the two of them can elicit to create one concrete character trying to figure everything out. It’s intriguing enough watching how both sides interact with their own environments but there’s a new depth that we are made to see on the screen to such a character that only this sort of storytelling can accomplish.

Although the film’s stage roots make themselves a tad too clear, Patricia Rozema still keeps everything enclosed within her own direction. This isn’t a story that can always hide its own stage roots, but there’s a sense of empathy from Rozema’s direction that makes Cassandra’s confusion feel so much more resonant – because of course trying to write a eulogy for someone that remained so close to yourself through most of life can only shatter you all the more when you seek to stick as close to the truth as possible. Perhaps there’s a limit present to which Rozema can extend this communication to the viewer, because of the extent to which it feels enclosed through the eyes of Cassandra, limiting the background interaction she has – only stoic figures being the most we see there.

Mouthpiece remains small, but the way in which it defines its environment through Cassandra’s confusion encourages one to look at life through a different set of eyes. Perhaps that’s something that can already be repeated about the very best of cinema, but with Mouthpiece showing its own roots having originated from a stage play, there’s another power that Rozema amplifies from every moment that we spend observing how Cassandra tries to come to terms with her own crumbling world. But even in the moments where it stumbles, it’s never not a fascinating watch – because of course trying to find peace amidst all of this can only mean a messy journey is going through.

Watch the cast and crew Q&A here.

Image via TIFF.

Directed by Patricia Rozema
Screenplay by Patricia Rozema, Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava, from the play by Nostbakken and Sadava
Produced by Christina Piovesan, Jennifer Shin
Starring Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava
Running time: 98 minutes
Release date: September 6, 2018 (TIFF)


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