Tribeca 2024 Review: DARKEST MIRIAM, The Secret Life of a Librarian

Britt Lower, Tom Mercier, Sook-Yin Lee, and Jean Yoon star in director Naomi Jaye's gentle, brain-teasing, genre-bending film.

Contributing Writer
Tribeca 2024 Review: DARKEST MIRIAM, The Secret Life of a Librarian

Miriam (Britt Lower) works at the Toronto public library surrounded by eccentrics of all kinds, both her colleagues and the patrons. There is generally not much going on in her life, but suddenly a few things coincide all at once.

First, Miriam strikes up a conversation with a fellow loner, Janko (Tom Mercier), a cab driver/ artist who also likes to read a book on a bench in the park, which blossoms into an unexpected relationship. Miriam also starts finding strange letters in the books that are all signed Rigoletto and are seemingly addressed to her – but maybe not. Both of these occurrences seem to pull Miriam out of her emotional coma, the reason for which remains unclear up until a certain point.

This second feature by the Toronto-based director and installation artist Naomi Jaye features Charlie Kaufman’s name as an executive producer in the credits, and it’s probably best to get this out of the way: Darkest Miriam does not exactly follow in his creative footsteps. Sure, it is a brain-teasing, genre-bending film, but its approach to deconstructing life is much gentler than Kaufman’s or than, say, what we've seen in Michel Gondry’s and Spike Jonze’s movies.

For starters, the storyline involving seemingly threatening letters might’ve become the basis for an elaborate mystery plot in their works, but Jaye doesn’t really emphasize on it, despite the letters warranting a visit to the police. Here, they remain just one of many enigmas of everyday life, as the film is filled with those.

There’s a strong feel of magical realism that dominates the aesthetics here. Based on Martha Baillie’s novel The Incident Report, which consisted of the heroine’s reports, Jaye’s feature sticks to Miriam’s perspective too. The way she sees the world around her is full of juxtapositions as she quietly observes the profound weirdness of life but also the wonder of it all.

Britt Lower (High Maintenance, Severance), who is playing Miriam, does a stunning job transmitting this through subtle changes in her facial expressions, like in this one great episode where she manages to say a lot about Miriam’s emotional state while not really answering a  hospital clerk’s questions. Tom Mercier (known for his roles in Synonyms and The Animal Kingdom) is mesmerizing too in his quiet, subdued performance as a perfect companion to Miriam and her worldview. 

The film gives us a gentle love story, but it also features a very distinctive artistic voice and style, where opera outbursts and unexpected stills of plants in the middle of the story feel like an organic part of the intricate cinematic language. Like several other films at the Tribeca Film Festival, Darkest Miriam – while aesthetically very different from them – reflects on the necessity to let go of things, both painful and wonderful. As Jaye’s movie also talks about art and its influence on how we perceive things, it also seems to frame the same idea this way: the painting of one's life can be dark or light, can be any texture, style or genre – just maybe don’t let it become a still life. 

The film enjoys its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival. It screens again on Friday, June 14. 

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Britt LowerJean YoonNaomi JayeSook-Yin LeeTom MercierTribeca 2024Tribeca Festival

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