The Myth of Fingerprints

Director: Bart Freundlich
Screenwriters: Bart Freundlich

Institute History

  • 1997 Sundance Film Festival


An extraordinary feature-film debut, Bart Freundlich’s The Myth of Fingerprints is sometimes funny, at other times a deeply resonant drama that traces the intricate framework of a family forced to confront hidden truths. Writer/director Freundlich has crafted a remarkable narrative that shines a spotlight on this family’s flaws, pinpointing its crumbling infrastructure.

It’s a few days before Thanksgiving in New England. There is a chill in the air, and a layer of snow lies on the ground. The family is gathering together, reunited for the first time in three years to share the Thanksgiving holiday. When viewed from the outside, they seem perfectly normal. Once we’re inside, they seem neither perfect nor normal. They are the great underrepresented segment of American indie film culture: “a typical American family.” Hal, the father, seems not to be sure he loves his children at all. His wife has run interference for so long she seems oblivious to the struggles of her four adult children to make a place for themselves in this family dynamic. This film is really their story, capturing them at the exact moment when they realize they are no longer part of their parents’ lives but not fully part of their own, either.

Freundlich zeros in on the exact moments when drama is at its critical mass and likewise so is the humor. There is much that is funny in The Myth of Fingerprints, but you also laugh because there is so much that hits uncomfortably close to home. Exceptional acting and writing hit their stride together in the film, and the impact is quite amazing. Even though The Myth of Fingerprints may have an all-star cast, it boasts beautiful ensemble performances. Scheider and Danner are perfect as the parents, and the wonderful lineup of actors playing their children and assorted mates understand completely that flawless combination of rage and love, loyalty and frustration of which only a family is capable. In the end we are left with the ultimate truth—what holds a family together is exactly the same thing that can tear it apart.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

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