There's something fantastically poetic about A Foundling. It doesn't seem like much as it's warming up, but with each minute the film seems more intriguing. I'm not sure I was ever quite sure what to expect from the film, the first feature from director Carly Lyn, while it was moving through its plot, but looking back at the full product I'm more than impressed and a bit enamored. This is a one of a kind sci-fi drama.
A Foundling opens as the tale of two Chinese American sisters who have been separated their whole lives. Virginia (Cindy Chiu) is married and proper, refusing to allow blasphemy and cursing, and Mattie (Nora Jesse) is her orphaned sister who has a foul mouth and is open to prostitution. The latter has been sprung from some kind of captivity by the former, and the duo seem to be on a voyage to discover their sisterly bond...until they come across a pile of wreckage and an injured young "creature".
The women will face their own tribulations on their journey - after all, it is "immoral" for women to travel alone, and they are Chinese in America during the 19th century. Adding a bundle of possibly extraterrestrial joy to the mix seems like an odd choice for a film of any kind, and there are more than a few moments early in the film where you really wonder if this all is going to lead somewhere. As chunks get taken out of horse's legs and food gets peed on, things start to get a bit weird...but Lyn (who also wrote the film) definitely has a strong vision of what the film plans to accomplish.
With so much of their on-screen time spent alone in a desert, the actresses also have to take charge. Chiu's Virginia fascinates by being the more conservative member of the party, while Jesse's turn as Mattie seems innocent despite her upbringing. The differences between the sisters are drawn out perfectly, and it's refreshing to see two female characters that aren't one dimensional. A lesser filmmaker might have kept the religious sister as the proper sibling and the ex-trickster as an uncaring sort, but the actresses and their director can tell that things aren't always that easy. The end result are two memorable characters that should blur the expectations of the average viewer. The supporting cast, led by Shelby Bond as a respectful male traveler, are also very good at what they do. This is one of the better ensembles that I've seen in an independent film of late.
Though the pace of the film is methodical, A Foundling is edited well into a brisk 90 minute duration. A fine dramatic musical score accompanies some of the quieter moments, thanks to Italian composer Pierpaolo Tiano, and the sound effects - including a lot of rustling winds - give an authentic feel to the film. The camera work is pretty restrained - most shots are a little too tight to give the film an "epic" western feel - but the close focus keeps us near the characters, which is where the drama of the film unfolds.
"Girl Power" rules the day in A Foundling, but Lyn's film is an honest and respectful attempt to present a feminine adventure that doesn't rely on sexuality or spectacle to draw the viewer's attention. Male viewers might hear the phrase "Chinese Cowgirls and Aliens" and get their hearts racing, but they'll be disappointed if they come into the film looking for cheap thrills. This is a genre-bending dramatic juggernaut, and I strongly recommend it to all.