Thursday, October 7, 2010

Silence of the North

(Allan Winton King, 1981)
It would seem counterproductive for this script to advance the thesis that happy times have more staying power than tough ones, because the narrative itself barely glances at the fond memories en route to the next heartbreak, hardship, or imperilment by wild animal. Of course, the sentiment is also exactly the sort of homespun chestnut you'd expect from this kind of True Life Story; Olive Fredrickson's tale of Northern frontier life is indeed full of drama and adventure, but the telling of it is so steeped in ancient melodramatic cliche that I kept flashing back to "The Fatal Glass of Beer". Granted, this is quite accomplished hokum. King is smart enough to keep a lid on the histrionics until they're really needed, he gets charming performances from Ellen Burstyn, Tom Skerritt, and Gordon Pinsent in a rare romantic lead, and Richard Leiterman's photography half-redeems the excessive lingering over lakes and trees - in fact the extended meditation on the river ice breaking up is the most inspired part of the movie. The rest of the time, though, the director is only a body doing a job, not quite betraying his intelligence but never really putting it to work either - no real humour, no felt horror, just one big demonstration of resilience.

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