American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Paperhouse" is a film in which every image has been distilled to the point of almost frightening simplicity. It's like a Bergman film, in which the clarity is almost overwhelming, and we realize how muddled and cluttered most movies are. This one has the stark landscapes and the obsessively circling story lines of a dream - which is, of course, what it is.
The movie takes place during the illness of Anna (Charlotte Burke), a 13-year-old with a mysterious fever. One day in class, Anna draws a lonely house on a windswept cliff and puts a sad-faced little boy in the window. She is reprimanded by the teacher, runs away from the school, falls in a culvert and is knocked unconscious.
And then she dreams of a "real" landscape just like the one in her drawing, with the very same house, and with a sad boy's face in an upper window. She asks him to come outside. He cannot, because his legs will not move, and because she has not drawn any stairs in the house.
Found by a search party, Anna is returned home, where her behavior is explained by the fever she has developed. The film alternates between Anna's sickroom and her dream landscape, and very few other characters are allowed into her confined world. Among them, however, are her mother (Glenne Headly) and her doctor (Gemma Jones), and there are flashbacks to her absent father (Ben Cross), who is the distant and ambiguous father figure of so many frightening children's stories.