Based on a novel by New Orleans neuroscientist Dr. Nicolas Bazan, “Of Mind and Music” is a contemplative drama of loss and redemption.
A renowned neuroscientist who lives Uptown, Dr. Alvaro Cruz is attending a conference in Paris when he learns that his mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, has died.
Beyond his grief, the shaken scientist feels waves of guilt about not being with her when she died. And despite the doctor’s vast knowledge of the human brain, he could not stop Alzheimer’s from taking his mother’s mind, her identity and, finally, her life.
Richie Adams, the film’s Baton Rouge-based director and co-writer, shows a sensitive touch, keeping the New Orleans-set story quiet and lyrical.
Adams doesn’t rush his characters’ journeys. He doesn’t telegraph emotion. When the film’s sparsely applied emotion does happen, it arrives with soft, unexpected steps, magnifying the impact.
Portuguese-American actor Joaquim de Almeida (“Fast Five,” “Clear and Present Danger”) leads “Of Mind and Music,” cast as Cruz.
De Almeida gives an emotional, but never over-demonstrative, performance as Cruz. The actor is a natural in the role of a profoundly distressed man who, nevertheless, remains a searching and resourceful scientist.
Following his mother’s death, the bereaved doctor takes time off from work. He self-medicates in bars and at home. His healthier efforts to carry on include sitting on the levee, watching the river flow.
Water, be it in ponds and lakes or oceans and rivers, has the power of consolation. So does music.
Visiting the Faubourg Marigny cafe where he and his mother used to drink coffee together, Cruz is transfixed by a singer named Una Vida, whose sweet, melancholy songs are accompanied by her protective guitarist and manager, Stompleg.
Aunjanue Ellis (“Ray,” “The Help,” “The Book of Negroes”) co-stars as the enigmatic Una Vida. The actress nimbly juxtaposes the beauty and mystery of Una Vida and her music with the tragedy posed by the singer’s undiagnosed Alzheimer’s.
Cruz finds relief from his grief and anxiety when he listens to Una Vida; conversely, she finds herself in the music, which provides a bridge to her evaporating memories.
Veteran actor Bill Cobbs co-stars as Una Vida’s patient guardian, the elderly Stompleg. The origin and extent of their relationship isn’t explained, but they clearly are connected by something akin to love. Cobbs expresses as much in candid conversation with Cruz.
Irish actress Ruth Negga (“World War Z,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), co-stars as Una Vida’s family member, Jessica. Not to fault the actress, but her character, a frustrated artist who works as a stripper, is a puzzle.
Jessica is instantly suspicious of the well-meaning Cruz. That hostility adds drama to the story, but it comes from nowhere.
There’s no such ambiguity in the film’s other principal character, the city of New Orleans. Adams and his director of photographer, Tom Lembcke, shot the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood where Una Vida sings, the Mississippi River and the former Louisiana Music Factory location on Decatur Street with eyes on the city’s authenticity and old-world charm.
“Of Mind and Music,” a closely held story with few characters, surprises with unexpected impact, thanks to the talented cast and the powerful dual forces of music and human kindness.
Director Richie Adams, author Dr. Nicolas Bazan and producer Brent Caballero will attend the Saturday screening “Of Mind and Music” screening at Zeitgeist.