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|Index||15 reviews in total|
Call me unpatriotic, but I have never been much of an enthusiast for
Canadian films. Too many of them are either lame sex comedies or
"ethnic" stories about social issues. Nothing wrong with either of
those genres if you're interested, but they're just not my cup of tea.
This movie, however (the version I saw was entitled "Edge of Madness"),
gave me hope that Canadian films can achieve some real heights.
Set in Manitoba in 1851, the story is a truly compelling mystery. Annie (Caroline Dhavernas) is a young woman who staggers out of the bush and admits to having killed her abusive husband Simon (Brendan Fehr). Something about her story doesn't ring true to Henry Mullen (Paul Johansson) - the closest thing there is to law enforcement in this village. The movie is then primarily a flashback as Mullen pieces together what actually happened to Simon.
The lead actors (Dhavernas, Fehr, Johansson and Corey Sevier as Simon's brother George) all put on excellent performances, and the story moves along crisply. Never once did I find my attention wandering. The sets had a realistic feel to them, as did the characters (the Scottish accents were at times a bit thick and difficult to follow).
There were a couple of problems. A bit more research should have been done before the scene in which the girls in the church-run school were singing "What A Friend We Have In Jesus." It's a lovely hymn (and a Canadian hymn, written in Port Hope, Ontario by Joseph Scriven,) but the movie is set in 1851, and this scene was a flashback to Annie as a younger girl (which would put it in the 1840's.) The problem is that Scriven didn't write the hymn until 1855 (and he actually wrote it as a poem) and it would have taken some time before it was set to music and became a popular church hymn. I also thought the ending was a little weak. There was a clear effort by Director Anne Wheeler to keep the viewer guessing about Annie's ultimate fate, but somehow the ending seemed far too contrived for my liking and a bit of a letdown after what had been a very good movie. Still, I liked this very much.
A beautiful story on the age-old themes: who is guilty on a crime? Does
true innocence exist? Too bad the outcome spoils a lot by being a bit
infantile. I felt it didn't do justice to the movie as a whole.
The scenery of Canadian life in the 19th century is really captivating and draws you as a viewer into its raw atmosphere. You really feel the battle against the elements as the characters are faced against it. Their harsh lives make it practically unbearable to keep a steady pace in life, let alone to have a decent love life. The acting is superb, with a huge extra plus for Caroline Dhavernes as the gorgeous but natural protagonist.
The haunting landscape could well be Minnesota and the story is reminiscent of Maud Hart Lovelace's Gentlemen from England and Karl Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth, both of whom were Minnesota authors. Besides the lead actress, Caroline Dhavernas, who is wonderful, it's fun to see Peter Wingfield and Paul Johansson in something with a little more gravitas than Highlander. Okay, Peter's Scottish accent and Paul's English? Dutch? accent left a good deal to be desired, but who cares. It is beautifully shot, with exquisite production design and costuming. Ann Wheeler built this film with lots of love. It unrolls like a tone poem written by Ingmar Bergman.
I very much enjoyed Caroline Dhavernas' performance in the failed
series Wonderfalls, so I thought I would purchase the Edge of Madness
DVD, and view some of her other work. Besides Wonderfalls, I had only
previously seen her in the comedy Out Cold, and wanted to see her in a
serious work. However, I was ultimately disappointed by the film, and
would not recommend it.
Firstly, as I knew some background on Caroline Dhavernas, and her character was of French background in the film, I assumed the film took place somewhere in Canada. However, the film never makes this clear, and simply announces the location as "Red River Valley." Any Canadian worth their salt might know that this is located in the province of Manitoba, but as an American, I was not familiar with it, and would have preferred greater clarity, e.g. "Red River Valley, Manitoba." I suppose the film's producers never expected many people outside of Canada to take interest in the film, and didn't feel they needed to clarify, which seems somewhat unprofessional.
At any rate, the film starts promisingly, and it seems the viewer is in for a good mystery. However, throughout the entire film, we're fed large blocks of Caroline Dhavernas' character's flashbacks. A truly compelling mystery leaves the viewer in the dark until the very end. However, this film keeps its viewers remarkably well-informed from beginning to end, making the final details of the story less-than-shocking. When the audience knows more than the film's investigating constable the entire time, it's difficult to even classify this film as a mystery.
A further hindrance to the enjoyment of the film was the extraordinarily thick Scottish accents two of the main characters have. I found myself frequently having to rewind the film, and even activate the English subtitles, just to get key pieces of dialogue in the movie. At some points, I even let the muddled lines go, too frustrated to rewind. There's a fine line between authentic and unintelligible, and if being the first means being the latter, I feel that it's okay to sacrifice a little sliver of authenticity for the sake of the viewer's comprehension. Fortunately, Ms. Dhavernas' French accent and the standard North American accents of the rest of the cast came through loud and clear.
The ending was quite muddled, leaving me without much of a sense of closure, justice or satisfaction. It left me wondering if the characters had really grown or learnt anything throughout the entire film, and if it really did justice to the film's themes. Also, the characters' relationships really weren't well-developed in my opinion, and needed more depth.
All this being said, the film's acting was excellent. Caroline Dhavernas did her best with a bad script, and her performance was quite moving and mature. Brendan Fehr, of the canceled series Roswell, proves that he can also handle a serious role, and the rest of the cast does adequate work. However, even such superb acting cannot salvage an inherently ill-conceived script.
In conclusion, Edge of Madness is an intelligent, well-acted film, but written and formatted poorly, and often confusing. If you're a die-hard Caroline Dhavernas fan, rent it just for the heck of it, but if not, don't waste your money on a purchase or even a rental. It's a waste of your time and a waste of good talent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
These comments contain minor spoilers:
Edge of Madness, also known as A Wilderness Station, is a quietly competent if decidedly uncommercial film about life in the Canadian wilderness circa 1850. It was filmed on location in Manitoba, directed by the same woman who did Better than Chocolate, an international success, and a film I really enjoyed.
Sarah Polley was listed as a producer in this film's advance publicity, and she was to have starred as well, but Polley dropped out of the project for reasons unknown to me, and her role went to unknown Caroline Dhavernas. You've never heard of Dhavernas, but she is lovely and definitely has some talent. The role required a wide range of emotional states, physical challenges, a beautiful singing voice, and extensive nudity, all of which she delivered with the aplomb of a seasoned pro.
As the story begins, a young woman stumbles into a remote town from somewhere in the wilderness. Half-crazed, starved, and frost-bitten from a long trek through harsh and frozen country, she spins a mad tale of killing her husband. The young man who passes for a constable in this outback hamlet must try to determine who she is and what, if any, truth resides in her story. The actual story is revealed slowly, inside her flashbacks, as he interrogates her.
It seems that she was a good and talented student, pretty and sincere, at an orphanage school for girls when she was chosen by a pioneer to be his bride. Although she was originally ecstatic about a chance to begin a life and start a family, her husband turned out to be an emotionally distant man who wanted a wife for the value of free labor, and to act as a release for his violent sexual urges. She therefore found herself trapped in the middle of the wilderness, isolated from human society, with a brutal monster.
The young investigator was torn by his responsibilities. The woman had already confessed to actions which clearly constituted premeditated murder under the law. She had waited until her husband's back was turned, then clubbed him over the head with the biggest rock she could wield. Yet the constable and everyone else could see that she was a gentle and good person who was only doing what must have seemed like the only thing she could have done to escape her life of involuntary imprisonment. In order to further accentuate the helpless of her predicament, the story adds a sub-plot about a local man who tried to rape her while she was in her cell, only to be foiled at the last minute by the constable.
The film would have been much better if it had decided to follow that excellent premise through to the end, because at that point it was standing very solidly on the kind of profound moral ground normally reserved for Kieslowski, asking the audience to determine exactly what was "right" in this context. She was in fact guilty of murder, but who among us could cast the first stone. Who could prosecute her after knowing her predicament? And if a society does prosecute and hang such a person, what does that say about the value of its laws and institutions?
Unfortunately, the director was not Kieslowski, and her source material was not that profound. The story took some easy cop-outs, thus completely resolving the moral dilemma without ever confronting it.
In essence, although it is a small Canadian film, it managed to create a Hollywood ending.
Even so, the yarn wasn't bad, to tell you the truth. I think the story gave a believable account of life in those times and the motivations of the various characters.
My only complaint was that it had profundity in its grasp, and let it go.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The acting in this film is superior, beginning with the multi talented
Caroline Dhavernas, she steals this film with her electrifying
performance and ethereal beauty. Ms. Dhavernas loses herself in this
role, and brings such raw emotion to her character that one rarely sees
from a young actress.
Paul Johansson was marvelous as well, portraying the detective attempting to unravel Caroline's tale of murder and adultery.
You'll utterly hate Brendan Fehr's character, he was all kinds of evil and vile, and deserved the end he came to. He gives the Irish accent a valiant effort, but wasn't that convincing with it, although that doesn't tarnish his performance at all.
I highly recommend this film to anybody who desires to watch a good character study. You can't help but care for Caroline's character, and will anxiously await how this film comes together at the end.
I was happy to see this movie take place in Canada. I think Americans will appreciate this movie too. A darker story about homesteading and the challenges and hardships faced by the people trying to carve out a new life. Caroline Dhavernas was excellent.
Unfortunately short theatrical release for this compelling drama.Great look and texture,provide fascinating backdrop for period love/ lust triangle that grows more sides as our beguiling heroine weaves her passive/agressive spell.Not Quite amplified enough for my liking as I hoped the female lead would be a little more cunning and a little less stunning.Very entertaining.
I decided to see this movie because I am a huge fan of Caroline
Dhavernas and Brendan Fehr and love seeing my favorite actors in
diverse roles. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the film
making and acting. I never once saw Annie or Simon and thought I was
looking at Jaye Tyler (Dhavernas in Wonderfalls) or Michael Guerin
(Fehr in Roswell). In fact, I was so impressed by Caroline Dhavernas'
acting that I had to watch the entire Wonderfalls DVD set to remind
myself that they were the same person. She carries herself so
differently in these different roles that I may not have even
recognized her at all.
I went in to this movie expecting a dark period piece. What I found was a haunting look at the effects of isolation and wilderness on the human mind. Simon Herron, who was raised in the wilderness by his mother's cousin, grew up to become a hard man who valued hard work and duty, eventually spiraling into a violent monster. His younger brother, George, was raised in the city by his father's sister who taught him to value education and human contact. And Annie, a naive child raised in a Christian school (probably an orphan) believes that marriage and a new start on a homestead will be the answer to all of her dreams. Over time, the violence, loneliness, and isolation begin to take their toll on Annie and George, ultimately leading to Simon's death and Annie having a near total break from reality, as we meet her when the film begins.
While obviously not for children due to graphic violence and nudity, I would recommend this movie to anyone who loves good storytelling and great acting. Edge of Madness differs greatly from anything normally seen in the U.S. It is not flashy or high budget, but instead offers a character driven story that, while slightly predictable, stays with you long after the credits have ran.
This film elevates director Anne Wheeler into the category of top
international filmmakers. See it once only for the brilliant
performances of some of the finest Canadian actors. Without exception,
the cast presents a beautiful, powerful rendering of the story. See it
again for the smart, taut story that will have you shifting your
perspectives and adjusting your reactions. And see it once more for its
exquisite cinematography that leaves you craving the Canadian Prairie
Wheeler works with a tight crew of skilled Canadian craftspeople and their dedication to her vision helps create the intensely moving and engaging productions she consistently turns out. This film is art and entertainment and must be seen!
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