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The highly anticipated feature debut from Kathleen Hepburn, one of Canada's most promising young filmmakers, is a devastating examination of the costs of long-term illness.

As it enters this year's Canadian Screen Awards with eight nominations – tying it with Ava and Hochelaga, Land of Souls – the new drama Never Steady, Never Still arrives in theatres this weekend with something resembling high expectations.

Which is an odd thing to write about Kathleen Hepburn's debut feature, a work of confidence, certainly, but mostly quiet observation. Audiences expecting some sort of typically loud and "Very Important" award bait might be thrown off, for instance, by Hepburn's insistence on chronicling her story, following a mother named Judy (Shirley Henderson) dealing with early-onset Parkinson's disease, in exceedingly hushed tones.

Although there are moments of extreme drama – especially centring on Judy's nearly grown son, Jamie (Théodore Pellerin), who confronts his sexuality just as he enters the grim workforce of Alberta's oil sands – Hepburn is careful to never deploy any easy narrative tricks or histrionics.

Her film plays out slowly and carefully, the camera lingering on Judy's day to day with a pronounced, if not necessarily profound, sense of intimacy and empathy. Never Steady, Never Still opens March 2 in Toronto and Vancouver.

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Reuters