Monday, January 25, 2010

John and the Missus

(Gordon Pinsent, 1987)
A decrepit Newfoundland mining town is targeted for relocation by post-Confederation bureaucrats, leaving native son Gordon Pinsent to make the argument for history and community. There's never any doubt that the scheme is heartless and underhanded, but as Pinsent lodges his protest and digs in his heels, the expected glorious victory never even gets to the first battle. Everyone takes the buyout and moves on, and his impassioned speeches neither revive the dangerous, collapsing mine nor convince even a single member of his family. In its attitude to what is undeniably a tragic situation, this kitchen-sink drama distinguishes itself from its British progenitors by its stubborn and unpredictable sense of humour, entirely befitting the carefully cultivated self-image of a place that knows tragedy as a way of life. And stylistically it distinguishes itself by a concentrated grandeur of gesture that borders on the operatic. While the droning, mournful score can get maudlin on occasion, more often it complements filmmaking that at peak moments recalls the economy and power of the great Soviets. While his investment in the material is obvious, there's never any question that Pinsent is 'acting' - his carefully choreographed cadences and gestures match the precision of the movie as a whole. Most films that include this many awkward silences come off as mannered or pretentious, but here the device feels true, and so does the final act's extended visual metaphor of the uprooted house - while at first the symbol threatens to displace the characters, the sequence ends with a gesture of affirmation so perfect that it moved me to tears. Roland Hewgill's tragic, alarmingly eccentric Fred is the most inextricably Newfoundland character there will ever be in a film.

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