Film Reviews

Conjoined at birth

There is something fairy-tale-like, but also deeply human, about Twin Falls Idaho, a gentle, beautifully realized tale of love and intimacy that marks the feature-film debut of Mark Polish and Michael Polish. Identical twin brothers, Mark Polish wrote the script, Michael Polish directed it, and both brothers star. It is what they star as that will catch many viewers off guard, and may well keep some people out of the movie theaters. The brothers play 25-year-old conjoined -- more commonly referred to as Siamese -- twins named Blake and Francis Falls, who have come to an unnamed city to find the mother who abandoned them at birth.

Attached on one entire side of their bodies, from their shoulders to their feet, the two have three legs and two arms between them. They also share several vital organs. Blake (Mark Polish), the more outgoing of the brothers, is also the healthier one; it is his heart that pumps blood through Francis and keeps him alive. Despite their gruesome physical condition, the brothers are clean-cut, intelligent, and witty, but they are understandably cautious around other people. Their experience with the outside world has not been kind; as freaks of nature, they have been subjected to ridicule, expressions of horror, and harassment all their lives.

Although the movie could easily be described as a relationship drama, Twin Falls Idaho is actually a love story or two love stories. The first concerns the extraordinary emotional and spiritual bonds that exist between the brothers, two individuals with very different personalities who together form a third distinct being.

The film's second love story revolves around Blake and Penny (Michele Hicks,), a prostitute whose initial aversion to the brothers gives way to genuine affection.

When Twin Falls Idaho premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past winter, some critics misconstrued it as a story about a bizarre love triangle. Others mistakenly placed the film in David Lynch territory, presumably because of the unorthodox subject matter. Both sets of reviewers missed the boat entirely. Although Blake and Francis do exchange harsh words in one scene, this is most definitely not a picture about a woman who comes between two brothers. And save for the creepy-sounding subject matter, there is nothing Lynchian about the film. In fact, the cold, distant, emotional landscapes that figure in so many of Lynch's movies couldn't be further from the gentle terrain that supports Twin Falls Idaho.

The movie never presents the twins as freaks, although certain characters in the film treat them as such. Certainly their physical appearance is shocking, but the actors create a sense of empathy for their characters so immediately that their physical deformity is hardly noticeable. Both men are phenomenally good. In understated but touching performances, they manage to suggest separate and distinctive personalities while conveying a bond of heartrending intimacy.

Michael Polish and his cinematographer, David Mullen, turned to the Dutch painter Vermeer for inspiration when it came time to devise a lighting plan. The 17th-century artist favored highly directional source lighting, and his paintings, rich in yellows and blues, give the impression of tableaux. So does Twin Falls Idaho, which is often bathed in a warm golden light.

The most moving sequence in Twin Falls Idaho occurs toward the end of the story. Shot in black-and-white Super 8, it has the dreamlike quality of a silent film. To reveal what the scene is about would give away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say that Polish and Mullen have achieved an ideal marriage of image and emotion, while composer Stuart Matthewman's simple musical accompaniment adds to the poignancy. This brief sequence packs an enormous emotional wallop that belies the simplicity of its idea and execution. It moved me to tears.

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Jean Oppenheimer