Archaeology of a Woman, whose generally odd title only alludes to a minor subplot, is entirely concerned with the neurological: Director Sharon Greytak filters most of the film through the eyes of Margaret (Sally Kirkland), a septuagenarian whose mind slowly succumbs to early-onset dementia. Margaret’s daughter, Kate (Victoria Clark), a chef on the cusp of breaking out in the New York culinary scene (and who makes men inexplicably fall head over heels with her, even though she doesn’t give them the time of day), reluctantly helps her prickly mother as she grapples with her disease, all while a dark secret from Margaret’s life becomes (literally) unburied. From the outset, Archaeology of a Woman purports to be an incisive character study dramatized through outré “dream logic,” but Greytak’s ineptitude at this very Lynchian aesthetic sucks all nuance and spirit out of the film.
Greytak pieces together a perpetual slipstream of memories and flashbacks under the notion that these moments from Margaret’s past will elaborate on her present state. But Greytak only seems willing to define Margaret on the grounds of her dementia, and the repetitive string of superficial incidents that result from Margaret’s condition (such as when she puts her blouse in the refrigerator) provide enough situational fodder for the story that the filmmaker further resists investigating the complexities of the character. This leaves the aimless narrative thread involving Margaret’s relationship with local police officer Calder (James Murtaugh), who’s forever linked to her by an ambiguous murder they committed when they were younger, as little more than another outlet for Greytak’s indulgence of style: After police find the body she and Calder buried, Margaret begins to infrequently see Calder again, her mind continually flashing back to that fateful night until the past begins to project on the present.
An extended dance between Margaret and Calder marks the culmination of the lovers’ decades-long attraction, but Greytak never gives an inkling as to why their love has endured (or, for that matter, who Calder is as a person), which makes the moment unintentionally cold. And like most of Archaeology of a Woman, this sequence, which is done in a single unbroken take and replete with oneiric imagery, seems like just another opportunity for Greytak to contrive another desperate stab at unconventional filmmaking.