Reel Dad: 'Mass' captures grief at Sundance Film Festival

"Mass" was screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance Film Festival

Movies can capture an intensity of grief that few of us can imagine.

And, while a camera may be tempted to exaggerate feelings to engage an audience, a savvy filmmaker chooses to forego what might work dramatically for what could actually occur in real life.

Writer/director Franz Kranz explores a tragedy shared by four parents in the exquisitely crafted “Mass,” a film that challenges viewers with its approach and engages with its lessons. Rather than make the movie larger to fit a theater screen, Kranz shrinks the experience to take us inside the damaged souls. And, as he films, he lets us know that sharing their pain will make any parent thankful for the children we get to hug.

Inspired by too many headlines of senseless tragedies, Kranz lets the film, at first, feel like a conversation we join in progress. Four people meet one afternoon, each knowing why they attend well before we understand what’s going on. They begin their discussion filled with expectations for what will be covered. Each has arrived with things to say and words they fear they will hear. No one intends to leave the room untouched by the tragedy they share.

Kranz chooses to tell this story in real time; the film begins as the parents arrive and only concludes when there’s nothing left for these people to say. Soon we learn the tragedy they share; a day when a young boy articulates his anger using bombs and guns instead of words, ultimately killing another young boy along with other children. Kranz makes it difficult to assess who hurts most as the parents initially engage in competitive grief. Ultimately, he lets them decide if and when they can move on with their lives knowing the emptiness of that day will never be filled.

We never leave this room; the film doesn’t insert those familiar flashbacks that a less confident filmmaker might have employed. We don’t need to see the tragedy. Too many news reports have taught us what the images may be and seeing this day through the memories of these parents makes what happened more horrific because we feel their scars. For these people, grief becomes a language that binds as their hearts search for reasons and ways to heel, knowing that may never occur. As sad as their stories may be, however, the authenticity of their words makes this a film to embrace. Through them, we learn to confront what we can’t understand, share what we can, and recognize there will always be mysteries left unsolved.

Of the actors, Martha Plimpton and Ann Dowd create unforgettable portraits of mothers who still believe they can love their families through any sadness while Jason Isaacs and Reed Birney portray very different fathers, one so connected to the events that he can’t move forward, the other so detached he can’t stand still. Together, these four parents help us realize that, as senseless as violence can be, how hurt robs people of hope may be the ultimate tragedy. The people in “Mass” give us, and themselves, the permission to let go of the pain.

Summary: Mass

Content: High. Writer/director Franz Kranz creates a compelling study of the relentless pain that tragedy can create.

Entertainment: High. No matter the tragedy of the story, and the visual limitations of its approach, Kranz makes us want to spend as much as possible with four fascinating people.

Message: High. Because the film is so authentic, and the characters so accessible, we easily absorb its lessons of steps we must take to absorb grief.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to learn from what others experience can help us through any difficult moments we may face.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie should inspire parents to talk with older children about the many layers of pain that tragedy can create.

“Mass” is not yet rated and runs 1 hour and 51 minutes. For more information about this year’s Sundance Film Festival, go to .