BIFF 2013 - Nor'easter - Cinema Review

'It can be read as a fairly obvious allegory; with faith shaken in general, quite how can the church go about rebuilding it?'

Andrew Brotzman's Nor'easter is attractively shot, with a moody plot that goes places slowly and with purpose, pausing along the way to consider religion, betrayal and location.

On the microcosm of an island in America's snowy north, a priest (David Call) wrestles with a township who's faith has been shattered by the acts of the former holder of his post. It can be read as a fairly obvious allegory; with faith shaken in general, quite how can the church go about rebuilding it? As the plot proceeds towards the middle the allegory gets more obvious, though the plot never quite manages it as well as you perhaps think it could.

Re-establishing faith on the back of a significant event but then pushed well and truly into the mire, Erik (Call) initially rejects a call to action as the obvious response but, slowly, as the machinations of the plot take hold, he is dragged into taking a proactive approach to taking care of his flock. The conclusion this leads to, as Erik comes into conflict with parishioners and authority figures, suggests Brotzman's message as a cautionary one: involve religion too greatly and problems may ensue, which doesn't quite live in harmony with the allegorical first two thirds.

That this happens in permanent snowy situ is one of the film's greatest strengths. Ian Bloom's blue-and-white friendly cinematography lends the whole thing an otherworldly feel, as Erik gets further and further lost in the landscape. Some hints towards horror (where exactly has Josh (Liam Aiken) disappeared to and why can no-one find him?) are made possible almost solely by the bleakness and sense of place the film creates.

The big problem hiding beneath or beyond the muddled subtext and the surface-level beauty proves to be the performances, which are frequently so bad they actively detract from what's going on. Call, who looks distractingly like Henry Cavill, is no better than fine and although Aiken is decent, beyond that the support is weak, with Richard Bekins in particular struggling noticeably. It eventually undermines the authentic Northern Noir atmosphere Brotzman has clearly worked towards, though there are clear signs here that something good awaits.




The 19th Bradford International Film Festival ran from 11th to 21st April 2013 at the National Media Museum and other venues near to the city.

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