Sunday, July 20, 2003

Northfork (IMDB) (Netflix)
Opening scenes: a final notice to dis-inter your loved one from the cemetary, a very sick boy being left with the local priest by his adoptive parents as they tearfully leave town, a dedication ceremony. Northfork, Montana is dying, to be flooded by a hydro-electric project that will flood the whole valley, and crew of serious, gentle men are determined to persuade their fellow citizens to leave in time, while the boy claims to be an angel who's lost his wings. By the Polish Brothers, Mark and Michael (think "Coen boys on Valium, hold the menace, extra whimsy"). A movie about leaving the past and embracing an uncertain future. Starring Nick Nolte, James Woods, Peter Coyote and Darryl Hannah, and host of other actors who have focused their careers on the unique rather than lucrative.

It's a curious little gem that works especially well for people who see too many movies; people like me. The film doesn't reveal its tonal center for some time; you're not sure if it's a comedy, tragedy, mystical fable or something entirely new, so there's no easy settling in "oh, I get it" moment, just a slow calibration of the audience to the Polish sensibility. The stark Montana scenery is beautifully photographed; not in that obvious "golden hour" orange that has been so overdone, but a more poignant, more authentic palette. The humor is so deadpan and sly that it can easily be missed, and the off-beat spiritual angle is the one part that clinks a little, but the acting is all-around-wonderful. For those looking for a cinematic road less travelled and all the more scenic, and whose senses haven't been completely dulled by the summer blockbusters.

One of the best films so far this year.