In many ways, the star of Aubrey Nealon’s look at the life of a draft-dodger and his family is Slocan Valley, British Columbia. David Geddes’ cinematography—particularly the aerial sequences—does full justice to breathtaking splendour of the Kootenays in early fall and winter. With such a brooding cast, there’s ample opportunity to let them worry through problems and make decisions as they stare across the water or realize their own insignificance compared to the massive mountains and lush forests that surround them.
Yet the world visited is as artificial as the selective shots that never reveal a single blemish to the landscape caused by the incursion and greed of the human race. Precipitation only comes in the form of greeting-card snow on the homestead’s buildings and the nearby towering peaks. Indeed, the only waste that makes its way into the narrative is a backed-up septic tank whose malodorous contents remain hidden from view by the thick, weed-free grass over top (yet that urgent situation does set up one of the lighter moments when troubled son sits astride the wide-open outhouse and must endure his father’s sudden wisdom and the not-quite-embarrassed looks from the next-in-line while coaxing his dump into the latrine).
Over three decades back, Jim (Michael Hogan) escaped to Canada with his bride-to-be, Marge and best friend, Matthew (Matt Craven). The hash-smoking hippies took to the land, first in a teepee (which prompts one of the many reminiscences that are steeped in double meaning) then in a triangular-design, “sturdy” dwelling built by the artist-grade woodworker who loves nothing better than to land a money-is-no-object commission and “let the wood lead you” instruction. Having settled into his new digs, Jim looks ahead to his new life while Matt quickly tires of country life and returns stateside (but not before the two men haul out their guitar and accordion, and take turns providing the mood-enhancing music while alternately bedding the hedonistic babe). Ah, free love!
Fast forward to the present day. Caleb (Kris Lemche) has learned his father’s craft but the pair can’t make a go of the business side of fine furniture. “It’s rare and it’s worthy,” is a high principle for any artist (and the samples brought into frame are as stunning as the countryside), but doesn’t pay the mortgage. The perilous financial situation is dealt a further blow with the death of Marge whose hospital job kept most of the bills current.
Nealon’s script reunites Matthew and Jim after decades apart—this time his former rival has hopes of establishing an eco-tourism business and would like nothing better than to have the associated lodge outfitted by the talented artisans. With Marge freshly buried, the love story revolves around the nearly-30 Caleb’s quest for a bride (Suzinn Robinson). Their initial dates are filled with frustration (she’s divorced-with-child and wants the assurance that her man won’t leave town, so no nooky until there’s a commitment) and perhaps a bit too much honesty in the first dinner date (“I lost my virginity on a log with our waitress,” confesses the hoping-for-some-action bachelor).
Then, before you can say “Let’s set up a parallel situation and make history repeat itself,” another pair of hippies (Sarah Lind, Kett Turton) come to town and have soon erected their teepee on the family plot.
At one with Caleb, the film teeters on indecision of what to do and where to go but does manage a couple of surprises that keep the proceedings moving amiably if not with direction and confidence (the music tracks are definitely a bonus).
But by journey’s end, even though much has been revealed and understood by the principals, it’s the power of nature that trumps the drama, leaving us with a production that will linger in our photo vault long after the characters have vanished. JWR
2005, 18 minutes
(Featured short film with A Simple Curve on Film Movement's DVD of the Month Club for new, award-winning independent and foreign films.)
The plight of HIV/AIDS orphans everywhere is succinctly captured in Avie Luthra’s quick peek into the resultant upheaval when Lucky (played with a sensitivity and compelling stoicism by Joy Mwandla), a young Zulu boy who is forced to move from his rural village to the bright lights of despair in Durban after his mom succumbs to her illness. There, his destitute uncle reneges on the promise of school and sends the hapless child into the streets to fend for himself when his frequent “aunties” drop by for a quickie.
A couple of doors down lives an aging Indian bigot who can’t abide the “black dogs” that hound her every appearance. Lucky, desperate to use the old woman’s tape player to hear his mother’s last words, barters water for audio and ends up sporting a black eye from the suspicious senior.
Yet once the old fart realizes her new neighbour has been abandoned by the world, her motherly instinct kicks in, risking certain death as she nervously touches the bare cheek of the wretched soul who immediately falls to sleep on the couch—surrounded by his new protector’s family memorabilia.
Those quick to judge the disenfranchised and pharmaceutical executives that value profit before life would be well advised to see this multilayered film; but worry not, their level of internal unease will be frequently assuaged by Bradley Miles’ color-rich score. JWR