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Northfork

Director: Michael, Mark Polish

(U.S.A.| 2003. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 103 mins.)


Montana, 1955, and the community of Northfork is about to disappear beneath a huge lake powering a new hydro-electric scheme. The streets are largely deserted, but a few stragglers remain to be ticked off the list by government agents (James Woods among them), working on a bonus scheme which will secure them valuable waterfront land. Meanwhile, an ailing orphan has been returned to the local priest (a careworn Nick Nolte) by adoptive parents convinced he’d be too ill to make the trip out of town. It’s an intriguing scenario from twin siblings Michael and Mark Polish, but they choose not to take it down the path of realist melodrama, daringly opting instead for a fabulist approach sustained by imagery of magic and desolation. American critic Roger Ebert described it in terms of Days of Heaven and Wings of Desire, but this dreamlike elegy resists easy categorisation.
Pacy it is not, nor will all viewers respond to Daryl Hannah and her band of ‘angels’ in the spirit of childlike wonder obviously intended, as they assess whether the stricken little boy is indeed one of their own. That said, there are rewards aplenty, from the beautifully rendered palate of silvery greys, strikingly austere landscapes and shards of bitter humour—coffins are removed lest they subsequently bob up to the water’s surface—to the flashes of visual inspiration which take the breath away (the service in the half-ruined church is unforgettable). Flawed it may be, but this poetic, meditative film will haunt your memory like the ghost of its vanished town.—.

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