Take a rug and the tissues


Directed by Percy Adlon
Starring k.d. lang, Rosel Zech, Chuck Connors
Reviewed by Bronwen Beechey

Anyone going to see Salmonberries would be well advised to wrap up warm. The film is shot in a remote part of Alaska where temperatures frequently reach -20 to -50, and the frozen landscape features prominently in this new film from the director of the highly acclaimed Bagdad Cafe. It is also advisable to take a packet of tissues, because watching Salmonberries is a very moving experience.

Like Bagdad Cafe, Salmonberries focuses on the developing relationship between two very different women, but it also deals with questions of national and gender identity.

Roswitha, a German emigre, runs the public library in Kotzebue, a bleak frontier outpost where she has spent the 20 years since escaping from East Germany. She hides from the world, spending her spare time bottling the indigenous Alaskan fruit that give the film its title.

In the library one day, she is confronted by a strange young man who demands information about the history of the town. He tells her that his name is Kotz — short for Kotzebue — and that his people founded the town. When Roswitha reacts with disbelief, the young man reveals in a very direct fashion that he is, in fact, a woman.

Despite Roswitha's initial rejection, Kotz continues to pursue her, asking Roswitha to help find the parents who abandoned her as a baby. Gradually the educated, refined Roswitha and the tough, inarticulate Kotz form a tentative friendship that develops into a strong emotional bond. In helping Kotz discover the truth about her background, Roswitha is forced to confront the ghosts of her own past, and finally the true nature of her relationship with Kotz.

The film was written especially for the two leading actors, and they play their roles to perfection. Rosel Zech is outstanding as Roswitha, particularly in the scenes where she struggles with her confused feelings of fear and desire for Kotz. It's also great to see a woman in her 40s portrayed as a vital and sexually attractive character.

Canadian singer k.d. lang makes her acting debut (she also sings the film's haunting theme, "Barefoot", which I guarantee you will be humming for days). She proves that her singing is matched by her acting ability, bringing to her character an awkward but powerful presence.

With its strong performances, stunning camera work and sensitive depiction of relationships, Salmonberries is one of those films that stay with you long after the final credits have rolled past.