Grief Hangs Around At Home In 'A Ghost Story' A new film starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara is provocative — if you've got the patience.
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Grief Hangs Around At Home In 'A Ghost Story'

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Grief Hangs Around At Home In 'A Ghost Story'

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Grief Hangs Around At Home In 'A Ghost Story'

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The low-budget movie "A Ghost Story" stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. The film, shot for a hundred thousand dollars, was made quickly and in secret just days after Director David Lowery finished the Disney film "Pete's Dragon." Critic Bob Mondello says it's hard to imagine more different films coming from the same director.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The two leads in "A Ghost Story," a married couple, are known only as C and M. Casey Affleck's C is quiet, a composer who's better at expressing himself in music than in words. Rooney Mara's M seems more comfortable saying what she's feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A GHOST STORY")

ROONEY MARA: (As M) When I was little and we used to move all the time, I would write these notes. And I would fold them up really small, and I would hide them.

CASEY AFFLECK: (As C) What did they say?

MARA: (As M) They were just, like, things I wanted to remember so that if I ever wanted to go back, there'd be a piece of me there waiting.

MONDELLO: She loves him, and he her, but their relationship is difficult. She wants to move. He is dragging his feet.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A GHOST STORY")

AFFLECK: (As C) I don't want what you want.

MARA: (As M) 'Cause you want to stay here.

AFFLECK: (As C) Mm-hm (ph).

MARA: (As M) Why?

MONDELLO: Shortly after this conversation, C is killed in an auto accident. At the hospital morgue, M says her goodbyes and leaves the body on its slab in stillness. When no one's around, C leaves, too. He sits up on the slab still covered by a sheet, looking for all the world like a child's Halloween costume with black holes for eyes. He's a ghost in ghost's clothing who begins to wander the crowded halls of the hospital unnoticed.

A portal opens, a chance to move toward the light. Instead, C returns to the house he didn't want to leave to be with his grieving wife. M does grieve - sorting through their possessions with eyes brimming, stress-eating an entire pie in one harrowing, uninterrupted take, listening to C's music, all with the ghost of C unseen, but ever in a corner of the frame.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GET OVERWHELMED")

DARK ROOMS: (Singing) Are you running late? Did you sleep too much? All the awful dreams felt real enough.

MONDELLO: And then, as she must, M moves on. C's ghost can't. He's bound to this spot through years, through other residents, even when the home is torn down, gradually slipping away from this world until he's entirely unmoored in time but still stuck. Director David Lowery started out as a film editor. And you could make the case that "A Ghost Story" proves what good editing can do on its own. After three years spent making the effects-heavy "Pete's Dragon," this almost amounts to a cinematic cleanse - microbudget, tiny cast, finished in a couple of weeks with no effects, almost no dialogue except for one scene where some partying grad students take up residence in C's house and are stoned enough to articulate what you imagine a ghost might be thinking.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A GHOST STORY")

WILL OLDHAM: (As Prognosticator) Maybe the whole world will remember you, or maybe just a couple of people. But you do what you can to make sure you're still around after you're gone.

MONDELLO: I should mention that the film is virtually without plot, so it requires some patience. Major stars and that title notwithstanding, "A Ghost Story" is not a Saturday-night date movie, more a provocative art film in the European sense. Though barely 87 minutes, it unfolds in long, static shots, most of them without faces to hang on to. It's almost a film without genre, and by the end it's become a story untethered from time itself. Still, it manages to be achingly intimate, and somehow optimistic, a meditation on loss, but also on legacy, on our enduring need to endure. We all hope to leave something behind - children, memories. Filmmaker David Lowery will leave "A Ghost Story." And if my own experience is any indication, it will linger. I'm Bob Mondello.

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