A memory of the automobile in which a father drove away from his family provides the title for Blue Car but no hint of the power of writer-director Karen Moncrieff's superb feature debut. That blue is the kind of detail Mr. Auster (David Strathairn), a married high school English teacher, encourages his talented 18-year-old student Meg (Agnes Bruckner) to develop in order to deepen as a poet. Auster's attention, in turn, is the caring support Meg comes to crave -- and, dangerously, to trust -- as she struggles with her own depressed, fatherless household.
It's high praise to compare Moncrieff with the dazzling Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (''Ratcatcher,'' ''Morvern Callar''). Each has a knockout storytelling voice and works with a raw, innately feminine strength that scrubs away the soapy film from sad sagas. The bond between Meg and Auster is a marvel of believable complication; Strathairn's portrayal of a flawed man is so moving and Bruckner's Meg so painfully true -- a breakthrough performance -- that thoughts of ''Lolita'' are left far behind. ''Blue Car,'' an independently made film (shot in beautiful 35mm) about becoming a real artist, is at the same time a thrilling example of what it feels like to encounter a real artist at the start of her career. Here's hoping that in her poetic future, Moncrieff will remain independent, free to deepen all the colors of her talent.