FILMS

VOICES IN THE WILDERNESS

Brian D. Johnson September 24 1990
FILMS

VOICES IN THE WILDERNESS

Brian D. Johnson September 24 1990

VOICES IN THE WILDERNESS

FILMS

THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS Directed by Cynthia Scott

It is a hard movie to sell. The Company of Strangers is a story of seven old ladies who get stranded in a deserted farmhouse— only to emerge two days later without having suffered any serious conflicts or injuries. The movie has little plot and no stars. The characters are all plyed by nonactors. Although planted in a fictional situaintimate details of their own lives. But, despite its use of documentary devices, The old age. And it marks a triumphant feature debut for its Montreal-based director, the National Film Board’s Cynthia Scott.

The movie is the Tatest product of the NFB's alter ative drama program, which relies on improvisation by non-actors. Others have in cluded 90 Days(1985), director Giles Walker's c edy about a mail~order marriage, and Sit ting in Limbo (1986), a story about black teenagers directed by Scott's. husband, John N. Smith. But none has worked as well as~•~ The Company of Strangers.

The fictional premise. is artfully simple. Sev en old women are towing the countryside when their bus breaks down. With theirdriver, a younger woman played by jazz and gospel singer Michelle Swee ney, they take refuge in an abandoned farmhou. . Sustainàg them selves with whatever they fi~j in the wild, they reminisce about past loves. and share

mew iears. The film-makers considEred: about 400 women for the movie. The seven who were chosen, aged 69 to 88, include Alice Diabo, a Mohawk from the Kalmawake reerve near Montreal, and Mary Meigs, a lesbian. writer who lives with well-known Quebec author Marie-Claire Blais.. The others are a nun, a former radio broadc~ster, a widow dedicat ed to gardening~ a retired sales clerk and a Liverpool-born woman who quit school at 14 to work in a tobacco factory.

As they gradually reveal themselves, to each other and to the camera, the director creates a loving study of human mortality Scott says that it was dimcult persuading some of the women to participate Iii the movie, because they hwi trouble under standing why anyone would be interested in them. And after seeing the film, most of them found it hard to watch themselves1. think they were expecting to see Hum phrey Bogart and Lauren BacalI," Scott said. But after all, she added, "they all said that it was the most wonderful time of their lives." And the magic that they experienced making The Company of Strangers be comes beautifully tangible onscreen.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON