“Where Is Kyra?” is a small story and a terribly sad one. Michelle Pfeiffer will break your heart in every scene. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“Where is Kyra?” answers the question posed in its title in two ways: She’s there, right in front of us, and she’s gone. Kyra, played with wrenching honesty by the great Michelle Pfeiffer, is one of those invisible people: a middle-aged, single woman in New York City, desperate to find a job. Initially, she lives with her elderly mother in one of those cramped apartments that time seems to have forgotten, but early on in the film her mother dies, leaving Kyra wondering how to pay the rent, keep the heat on, get by. We see Kyra trudging through her neighborhood, asking about jobs (it seems she was once a bookkeeper, though details of her past are few) and filling out applications, but no one seems to take notice of her; it’s as if she wasn’t there.
Directed by Andrew Dosunmu (“Mother of George”), “Where is Kyra?” unfolds on gray-shadowed sidewalks and dark, brownish rooms — the better to save on electricity, and to illustrate the heroine’s plight. Color is rare; a sudden ambulance flashing red in the night is shocking. The only other character we meet with any depth is Kyra’s neighbor Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), who’s likewise a sweet-natured lost soul. They fall into bed, and into something resembling a relationship, but it’s as if he’s a sapling that she’s clinging to in a storm; better than nothing, but not real shelter.
Slowly, we begin to learn a little more about Kyra’s past, but not much; Pfeiffer’s silences, and the way her mouth so often forms a line of misery, tell the story we don’t hear. The soundtrack sounds like the scraping of something bare; the soft light makes us strain to see her face. And a recurring image from the film’s early scenes — a ghost, we wonder, of Kyra’s future? — suddenly comes into focus, sending the plot down a dark road from which you doubt it can return.
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“Where is Kyra?” is a small story — there’s much about its main character that we’ll never know — and a terribly sad one. But it’s a remarkable showcase for Pfeiffer, who’ll break your heart in every scene. Watch her painfully straight posture at her mother’s funeral; hear her barely-holding-it-together brittleness in the words “It’s hard out there”; and marvel at the final shot of Pfeiffer’s face through a window, as still as a statue. You can barely see her; she’s already gone.
★★★ “Where is Kyra?” with Michelle Pfeiffer, Kiefer Sutherland. Directed by Andrew Dosunmu, from a screenplay by Darci Picoult. 98 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. SIFF Film Center.