In remote north-western Alaska, inarticulate Alaskan pipeline worker Katzebu (k.d. lang) searches for her family origins in the town's small library. Roswitha (Rosel Zech), the librarian, is a quiet East German who retreated to Alaska after her husband was shot down escaping across the Berlin Wall. As the women help each other come to terms with their pasts, they try to establish on what is their relationship based.
Review by Louise Keller:
An unforgettable and haunting film about longing and loss, Salmonberries has a visceral energy that is as powerful as its isolated snowy Alaskan locations. The icing on the cake is an evocative soundtrack in which k.d. lang's honey-imbued voice soars over images that include the snow, the sky, a sled and a woman. It is the story of two women from totally different backgrounds who are emotionally lost. Notable for being k.d. lang's striking feature film debut, the remote setting is treated like a character by director Percy Adlon (Rosalie Goes Shopping), who captures every delicate nuance in the relationships. A cathartic journey begins as they each become catalyst for the other.
Rosel Zech's librarian Roswitha is about to close up when lang's Katzebu (named after the town) enters and makes demands. 'Do you even know how to read?' Roswitha asks when books are flung in anger. Their second meeting is equally provocative; in response to being called a young man, Katzebu takes off her clothes to reveal her sex. It is at their third meeting Katzebu brings a fish for a gift. 'I have a little screw loose too,' Roswitha says when Katzebu sees the shelves laden with bottled salmonberries about which she is obsessed. Thus starts their relationship which is far from a tender one. Rather it is filled with conflict and misunderstandings. Actions rather than words are key to this involving drama in which Katzebu explores her roots, while Roswitha stops running away from her past. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel uses green and blue lenses to great effect, establishing mood and a tangible melancholy. The emotional highpoint comes after a sleigh ride on the snow when Roswitha tells her story for the very first time. With lang's 'Barefoot' ringing in our ears (I'd walk through the snow barefoot if you'd open up your door..) our emotions are ripe for the picking.
We get a sense of the lifestyle and the characters that live in this icy nowhere-land. There's Chuck Connor's Bingo Chuck who spies through his binoculars when he is not calling Bingo and Oscar Kawagley's Eskimo Butch who reads books voraciously, whether he has read them before or not. Beethoven's Spring Sonata also plays its part. When the issues about the relationship between the two women come into play, Adlon handles it beautifully, the intensity curbed by smart editing in a series of emotionally taut short scenes. Unusual, unique and highly memorable.
In a stunning 45 minute-long DVD special feature, 11 years after making the film, k.d. lang talks about the experience of her first film to director Percy Adlon. 'There was not much separation between the set and real life; the emptiness, the spaces,' she recalls. 'The movie is all about space; space is a deep drug.' Lang concurs that her album Ingenue grew from her experiences in the minus 42 Alaskan location. The process of writing lyrics is very arduous, she tells, but the lyrics for 'Barefoot' just flooded out late at night in about five minutes, after the walking barefoot in the snow sequence.
Published September 4, 2008
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SALMONBERRIES: DVD (PG)
CAST: k.d. lang, Rosel Zech, Oscar Kawagley, Eugene Omiak, Wayne Waterman, Jane Lind, Chuck Connors
PRODUCER: Eleonore Adlon
DIRECTOR: Percy Adlon
SCRIPT: Percy Adlon, Felix O. Adlon
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Newton Thomas Sigel
EDITOR: Conrad M. Gonzalez
MUSIC: Bob Telson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Bernt Amadeus Capra
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Retrospective 45 minute interview with k.d. lang
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella
DVD RELEASE: August 4, 2008