' ' Cinema Romantico: How to Disappear Completely

Thursday, April 16, 2020

How to Disappear Completely

Tom Quinn’s sadly underseen “Colewell”, this blog’s #3 movie of the year, might well stay sight-unseen, even now, though it has suddenly proven timely in a way Quinn and his outstanding lead actress Karen Allen could have hardly predicted. Allen’s character, Nora, is not just a postal worker approaching retirement age in a rural Pennsylvania town, she essentially is the post office. The station doubles as her home and her morning routine of coffee and eggs innately gives way to sorting mail. When she receives word her postal outpost will be shuttered, stranding the town without one, it’s a blow both to the community, seen throughout gathering around Nora’s window for chit-chat as much as sending or picking up packages, a threat to her identity, her life, as much as her livelihood.


It was reported over the weekend that the Trump Administration, in all its inestimable non-wisdom, threatened to the veto the $2 trillion Cares Act if it contained any money to help bail out the oft-financially shaky yet nevertheless indispensable United States Postal Service. The President, His Imbecility, has frequently cited that higher rates on other Internet shipping companies, like Amazon, would right the ship, a claim repeatedly disproved, though as our foremost Trumpologist, David J. Roth, has noted again and again, once Trump convinces himself of something, even if the facts say otherwise, he cannot be unconvinced; the truth always runs second to his own truth, no matter how manifestly boneheaded. Whether Trump is willing to write off the post office to score massive points in his ongoing feud with Amazon and Washington Post overlord Jeff Bezos, hamper mail-in voting for this year’s election, or merely adhere to conservative dogma that everything must be privatized just like Jesus would have wanted, who knows, but it would be a tragedy for this gasbag to confuse such a rash rumbling in his gut for civic duty.


In the wake of 2016, we were often treated to images of electoral maps, not so much breaking down red states and blue states as red votes and blue votes. Red votes trended rural, blue votes trended urban, evoking our familiar divide. This, went the refrain, proved that Rural America was sick of being ignored. Fair enough, but the Post Office is an institution eschewing pesky partisan divide, acknowledging everyone, day after day, regardless of snow or rain, etc. More than people in the cities, however, where the USPS has multiple locations and citizens often live right on top of one another, so to speak, the post office is a lifeline for rural America, as “Colewell” evinces, allowing distant places and people to maintain connection. And that is why I can’t quite see the logic of standing by the President when he threatens to sever that lifeline if for no other than reason than, at best, his ignorance or, at worst, his vainglory. By rejecting a bailout, rural America, he, the President, is ignoring you.


Though “Colewell”, made on the cheap, has an indie kind of kitchen sink aesthetic, it also contains a distinct metaphysical air, one lifting it into greatness, conveyed in a young drifter whose story runs parallel to Nora’s. The drifter is Ella (Hannah Gross), her name short for Eleanor, just like Nora, merely enhancing the idea that, despite a scene they shared mid-movie, she is somehow a younger version of Nora’s self, an idea Quinn is smartly content to render ineffable as opposed to explicit. The movie ends by cutting back and forth between Nora going through her morning routine and Ella sitting beside a lake, seeming to find the emotional wherewithal to almost bend time to her will by vanishing into the moment. When she does, we return to Nora’s kitchen save for Nora. The coffee is there, but she is gone. It was a sequence that lingered with me, long after it was over.

In an interview with Stepehen Saito at Moveable Feast last December, Quinn, asked about the film’s genesis, said this: “Initially, I was at a friend’s for New Year’s and he had an agricultural map on his wall, which is a weird thing to have of Western Pennsylvania. I asked him why and he told me it’s because his hometown isn’t on the map anymore – it got erased when the woman who ran the post office out of her home retired, so they retired the zip code and their town got removed, basically.” And as I drifted back to “Colewell” in my mind over the weekend, I realized its ending was not just informed by Quinn’s explanation but brought his explanation to life.

Nora literally disappears.

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