Thursday, January 15, 2015

Jay Craven's NORTHERN BORDERS brings us a scrappy Vermont family some sixty years ago

Noticeably old-fashioned in both its style and subject matter, NORTHERN BORDERS, the new film directed and adapted (from by novel by Howard Frank Mosher) by Jay Craven, may take some getting used to in these times of fast-pacing and elliptical storytelling. But TrustMovies thinks it's worth your trouble. In addition to a high-level cast that includes the likes of Bruce Dern, Geneviève Bujold and Jessica Hecht, the movie has a quiet integrity to it that builds sturdily and steadily as it unfurls.

Mr. Craven, shown at left, appears to be a moviemaker dedicated to filming tales that involve the people and state of Vermont, and Northern Borders is yet another of these -- maybe the best of his since Where the Rivers Flow North. It's a tale of a fractured family, mid-1950s-style, in which the grandson, Austin Kittridge III -- played by Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (below, right), whose low-key, quiet and thankfully not-too-cute performance is another of the film's assets -- spends some months with his grandparents, played by Mr. Dern and Ms Bujold (shown below, left) on their relatively isolated farm in Vermont. There he discovers some interesting family secrets and lore -- a missing aunt who supposedly robbed a bank -- while learning about the strange characteristics of long-term love in the process.

From the start the movie is low-key funny, as our little hero wonders if the drunk in the train station could be his grandfather. Once he arrives at his new home, grandma -- born in Egypt and full of Egyptian history and lore -- begins calling him "Tut" (for the Pharaoh Tutankhamen) and fills him with new ideas which lead to questions about life and love, right and wrong.

Grandpa does pretty much the same thing, but in his own taciturn style (Dern, shown above, is, as usual, very fine). The movie is full of decade-specific references -- the early days of Off-Broadway and Adlai Stevenson -- and the look of the film seems quite on-target.

The various townspeople and neighbors of the family whom we meet are rendered in quick, often comic strokes (the visit from the Sheriff is a particularly underplayed comic scene), and as the movie meanders along, you'll find yourself adapting to its slow pace and small, charming "events."

These include everything from a school bully -- above, left, and a girl, for a change! -- locking the teacher in the outhouse to a maple syrup festival, the gifting of one of the family's cows, game-playing and maybe a little "first love" with a school friend, and even the coming of electricity to Vermont's outlying areas in an interesting scene, below, in which we see some Vermont "justice" doled out in court.

Probably the oddest of all the events is the arrival of that would-be bank-robber aunt (played by Ms Hecht, below) and what this means for young Austin. At times the movie seems more tall tale than actual family history, but eventually this becomes part of its charm.

By the time of Northern Borders' finale, we, like young Austin, have lived through quite a turn of events, and may very well be all the better and wiser for it.

The movie opens here in New York City at the Cinema Village this Friday, January 16, after playing a number of regional cities. I would think or at least hope that a DVD is in the works, as well, for any old-fashioned-minded folk who don't live near enough NYC to get to the theater.

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