Thursday, April 24, 2014

Northern Borders

Not that it means anything since I never got around to actually seeing the movie, but I think Jay Craven's Where the Rivers Flow North may be the first independent film that I was really aware of as such. Like a lot of folks who had sort of casually known what movies were coming out, I was vaguely aware of something called Sex, Lies, and Videotape a few years before, but seeing ads for Rivers playing at local Portland, Maine, theaters had me kind of curious; it seemed like a movie with Michael J. Fox in it would demand more attention. This curiosity didn't get me very far - never getting the hang of driving while living in a town the size of North Yarmouth means you miss stuff - but it stuck in my head a bit, enough to be kind of familiar when I saw Disappearances fifteen years later.

I remember liking that one more than my review says I did, so I pushed some things around to make sure I saw Northern Borders during its one night at the Brattle. I must say, it seems kind of unfortunate that Craven's work seems to be getting less reach: Where Rivers at least got a regional release, Disappearances probably had a weekend at the Brattle before a hitting home video, and Northern Borders is down to a day in the middle of the week. Sure, it will probably get picked up by streaming, and it seems to have played a bunch of towns in Vermont, but it's good enough to deserve a little more visibility.

"Northern Borders" director Jay Craven

At least Mr. Craven was able to be there in person, complete with a reception beforehand and a Q&A after. Much of the time was spent talking about how this film was a somewhat unique collaboration between professional filmmakers and students, mostly from Marlboro College in Vermont (where he teaches) but also from Boston-area schools. It turned out pretty good - better than Disappearances and certainly something that could get a wider release. He's also shooting another one right now - Peter and John, which transplants Guy de Maupassant's novel to 1800s Nantucket - and there's a Kickstarter page to help fund it. It's another interesting-looking project, for how the rewards tiers itemize what an award pays for.

Northern Borders

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 April 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (special presentation, DCP)

Having lived in New England my entire life, I'm mildly curious as to whether Jay Craven's "Northern Kingdom" films were ever particularly visible outside the region. They're local and low-budget, but fairly well-made, and usually have one or two people the audience will recognize in the cast. In this case, that's Bruce Dern and Geneviève Bujold, and the movie is plenty good enough that they're not out of place.

They play Austen and Abiah Kittredge, farmers in Vermont's Kingdom County who, as of 1956, have been married for decades, although it has been some years since they were happily so. That's when their grandson Austen III (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is sent to stay with them for a while, and he doesn't know what he's getting into: His grandfather is considered the meanest bastard in the county and has little use for schoolteachers like Austin Jr. while his grandmother is obsessed with ancient Egypt to a level that goes beyond eccentricity. But as his stay extends much longer than he originally expected, he makes a friend in Theresa Dubois (Jacqueline Hennessey) and picks up stories about what shaped his grandparents and how his Aunt Liz (Jessica Hecht) is said to have hidden the proceeds of a bank robbery on the farm.

As coming-of-age stories go, Northern Borders is fairly low-key; Austen is more mature by the end of the movie, but it's less the result of things happening to him than what he observes. It makes him a somewhat soft center for the movie - a couple of important decisions he makes come off-screen or without a whole lot of visible consideration - but it does give the story an interesting feel, as it winds up being half about what the elder Kittredges do themselves and half about how Austen reacts to them. Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick handles that role fairly well; there's a quiet curiosity about this boy most of the time, but a fierce intensity that pops up on occasion. He's good enough to have the last word and make it mean something.

Full review at EFC

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