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The patients at Verre Sanitarium somewhere in France are never allowed outside.
They are given books to read, gourmet meals, and exercise classes. They are encouraged to learn arts and crafts; to work with their hands. They are treated to only the finest of classical music and films of the highest brow.
They have round the clock access to the best physical and psychological care and therapy; the latest medications carefully administered.
But with plastic cups and paper plates, mirrors merely shiny metal surfaces, walls of concrete and windows sealed not with panes but steel bars, glass represents not just life outside but life itself. Glass is what none of them can have. What none of them can touch. It means solidity. Clarity. Freedom.
Miss Bicchiere, Verre’s chief therapist played by Sarah Panuso, finds among her charges three men who, though they arrived at different times under differing circumstances, all share one commonality: they all believe they are starring in (or watching) the same television show, “Shattered Reflections.” Glass shatters and reflects; it is also a component in old fashioned televisions, from the protective screen to the tube innards, so even the trio’s delusional escapism is isolated and contained. They believe they are part of an experience they themselves cannot experience.
And even if they were allowed access to this fictional tv show, they would ironically find themselves trapped behind glass; their true selves on display for everyone else to see but never to be engaged. In a brilliant third act scene Miss Bicchiere arranges for the three men to have two hours with an actual television and over 200 satellite channels in order to confront the invalidity of their shared psychosis. She expects them to concoct elaborate explanations for why their “show” is nowhere to be found. Instead, the therapist is forced to question how she views reality.
The three men are:
Brian (James Comay), with multiple personalities that all center around the manufacture and sale of plaster of Paris; Lou (Bruce Swill), a disgraced insurance adjuster with a knack for bric a brac appraisals; and Robbie (Samuel Jacknose), a former paralegal obsessed with the paranormal.
Bicchiere can find no link between them. They are different ages and come from different parts of the country. They were admitted months apart and never shared quarters. No one had ever noticed them spending time together; indeed, the three men keep mostly to themselves. Each actor gives a terrific performance radiating helpless need and unfolding resolve as their situations become too much for them to contain.
The questions and creepiness increase as their separate stories congeal and mirror each other, the film’s effective use of sounds and silences creating a growing sense of the sanitarium’s walls closing in not on the patients but on the staff and their ineffective attempts to rationalize what is proving to be highly irrational.
When Noam Sayen broke onto the scene with his 2008 debut Mule, that film’s pitch black tone and confrontational themes painted the director as an upstart with style to spare but perhaps a bit bombastic and indulgent. His next few efforts did much to improve that view, even winning him an Oscar nod for Tomorrow’s High, while the ease with which he handled those films’ broad range of genres – a noir, a western, a heist comedy – earned him a crack at the helm of the blockbuster Spectral.
With Glass, Sayen continues to impress with a stimulating color scheme and an engaging pace which allows screenwriter Janis Sary’s story time to unfold in all its complexity. Panuso (Excalibur) as Bicchiere leads us on a labyrinthine trip through the steel doors of perception as she strives to unravel the mystery centered around her three strangest charges, a mystery that fractures her own psyche as much as it seemingly frees theirs.