Black Field

Black Field
Note: Since the film hasn’t had a theatrical or DVD release yet, I had a hard time assigning this entry a category. I’ve decided to file it under Film Festivals since the film recently screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival, despite the fact that I didn’t see it there.

Black Field (Director: Danishka Esterhazy): I’ve been watching a lot of Canadian films of late. One of the side effects of my new job is that I get to watch some of the dozens of screeners that are sent to us. Most of them are terrible, and deserve no further comment from me. But once in a while, something bubbles up that, while not perfect, shows promise. Though I’m speaking completely personally here, and not for my employer, I was impressed with this prairie version of a gothic romance.

After losing the rest of their family to typhoid, Maggie and her younger sister Rose are left to fend for themselves on their farm in rural Manitoba. In the 1870s, this is pretty unusual, but they’re so isolated that hardly anyone is even aware of their existence. And then one day a mysterious stranger arrives at the farm, asking for lodging until his exhausted horse can recover. French-Canadian David claims to be a trapper, but it’s clear he’s hiding something. The sisters are both afraid and attracted. Quite apart from being someone new to talk to and look at, David’s physicality and charm arouse the sexual desire that is dormant in older Maggie and just budding in her young sister. Within a few days, it’s clear to Maggie that Rose and David are carrying on a relationship behind her back. When she demands that David leave, Rose slips away during the night with him. Since the sisters’ only horse died, Maggie is forced to walk 18 miles to the nearest farm to ask for help. The taciturn Ukrainian family nod sympathetically at her story, but refuse to lend her a horse to give chase to the couple. Desperate, she steals one and heads off to track them down and bring Rose back.

What I liked about the film is that with such a potentially melodramatic plotline, Esterhazy keeps the emotion low-key, instead opting for a grittier approach, with suitably moody cinematography instead of showy performances. Sara Canning (now starring in television’s The Vampire Diaries) is suitably conflicted as Maggie, torn between her maternal feelings for Rose and wilder emotions like jealousy and lust. The script keeps its focus on the triangle of Rose, David and Maggie, allowing the film to succeed as a period piece without a huge budget. The rough edges show in the smaller performances, and in Ferron Guerreiro’s (who plays Rose) shaky Scottish accent, but they detract only a little from a solid film. Danishka Esterhazy is definitely a Canadian director to watch.

Official site of the film


This entry was posted in Film Festivals and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Black Field

  1. Neil says:

    Funny, I know a ton of people who worked on this, including the director. What a surprise to see it pop up in your RSS feed.

  2. Neil, that shouldn’t surprise me. We need to have lunch soon so you can tell me everything you know about Winnipeg’s film scene.

Comments are closed.