Playing August 30 at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, “Puzzle” is a quiet film that starts slow and comes together with feeling and charm. The subject is a housewife who discovers her talent for putting together jigsaw puzzles. Marc Turtletaub directs the film, which is based on an Argentine film of the same name. Kelly MacDonald stars as Agnes Mata, who lives in Connecticut with her auto mechanic husband Louie (David Denman) and two adult sons, Gabe (Austin Abrams) and Ziggy (Bubba Weiler). MacDonald is well-known for her accomplished roles in “Trainspotting,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Anna Karenina” and “Boardwalk Empire.”
The viewer first sees Agnes vacuuming in preparation for a birthday party, hanging a banner and launching balloons. The surprise comes when it turns out it’s her birthday that’s being celebrated. A bit of an oaf, Louie breaks a plate, and Agnes scurries around to pick up the pieces, finding all but one. These early scenes tell a lot about the characters and their home life.
Agnes’s birthday presents are an iPhone and a jigsaw puzzle. She’s a bit clueless about the cell phone, but agrees to use it for emergencies. The next day, she opens up the puzzle box and sets about putting together the pieces. Quite pleased with herself, she finishes in no time at all. It’s enough fun that she calls up the friend who gave it to her to find out where she can get another one. As it turns out, the puzzle comes from a store in New York, but that doesn’t faze her, and she sets off on the train for Manhattan.
Her quiet determination is one of the first clues that there’s going to be more to Agnes than the mousey housewife tied tight to her family and her church. Another comes when more than once she counts down the time till the alarm goes off and her snoring husband mutters, “Five more minutes.”
After buying two puzzles at the puzzle store, Agnes sees a note that reads “Desperately seeking puzzle partner,” asking for a text response. Good thing she’s apparently learned how to use her new cell phone. She screws up her courage, calls and makes an appointment to meet Robert, played by the well-known East Indian actor Irrfan Khan. She keeps her family in the dark about this new hobby. Robert is impressed with her puzzle skills, and they start meeting twice a week in preparation for a tournament. The two couldn’t be more different, Agnes shy and reticent; Robert worldly and sexy.
Gabe is planning to head off for college, while Ziggy is working, not very happily, in his dad’s garage. As much as their father, they are both presences in the family. With money tight, Louie decides to sell the land and cabin at the lake, the family’s summer retreat. Half the cash will go to Gabe and half to Ziggy. Each has his own idea of what to do with the money.
As Agnes and Robert’s relationship develops, Agnes flowers, becoming increasingly assertive. The narrative unfolds in interesting ways, and viewers will find themselves charmed by the choices Agnes makes.
In a special screening at the Capawock, “Out of My Head,” Susanna Styron’s documentary about migraines, will play again on Wednesday, Sept. 5, and Styron will attend.
Information and tickets for “Puzzle,” “Out of My Head” and the International Film Festival are available at mvfilmsociety.com.