Strangers in Good Company

Strangers in Good Company ★★★★★

"You never heard the one about the two old ladies who went into the woods for a tramp?"
"But he got away."

NOPEtober 2020 Film #28 of 31

Cynthia Scott's loosely scripted Canadian docufiction hybrid gem Strangers in Good Company -- alternatively known as The Company of Strangers -- is EXACTLY the kind of film I needed to help round out NOPEtober, as we hit the home stretch of positive stories, musicals, comedies, and uplifting documentaries.

But this isn't simply a feel-good flick, it's a modern feminist classic, criminally underseen. And it's a masterpiece.

In the countryside of Quebec, seven older women travel on an outing -- Mohawk elder Alice (Alice Diabo), U.S.-born Quebecer Constance (Constance Garneau), English woman Winnie (Winifred Holden), U.K.-born Cissy (Cissy Meddings), feminist lesbian Mary (Mary Meigs), Catholic nun Catherine (Catherine Roche), and Montrealite Beth (Beth Webber) -- driven in a small bus by the younger Michelle (Michelle Sweeney). In this remote area, their bus breaks down, and immediately the 27-year-old Michelle hurts her ankle. So, some of the gang heads out, finding an abandoned cottage of one of the women from decades ago. Others stay back and try to fix the bus. All the while, they realize they might have to stay here a bit, and during this impromptu sojourn, converse about what they discover in the wild and what they discover about themselves and one another.

With only a story outline written by Gloria Demers and with input from director Scott, the cast of Strangers in Good Company were given loose instructions but generally provided freedom to discuss anything they wanted. We don't know what the trip was for, what the destination was, or how these women know (or don't know) each other. In time, we lean small bits of it, but not nearly as much as any traditional movie would build towards. There's no big reveal, there's no interesting twist, there's no secret to discover. However despite all that lack of usual narrative, what some forth in this Canadian indie classic is truly magical.

It's quiet -- though occasionally guided by a lovely score from Marie Bernard -- and pensive at parts, sweet and endearing in some others, and honestly very funny at just the right times and with just the right tone that Cynthia Scott heightens. She allows the women to form groups, trios, or pairings, and discuss whatever they want. Birds, music, family, frogs, work, love, loss, life, death, everything and anything as they spend a few days together. While they each have different lives and backgrounds, these seniors (aged about 66 to 88) begin to learn a great deal about what unites them. And since Scott films with such authenticity, at no moment does one ever assume that anything in this story isn't also authentic. Every moment is pieced together perfectly with warmth, yet slowly as the film moves along there is a creeping sadness. Despite this group of eight together, helping and consoling, they each are alone, and they cannot help but contemplate death and fear.

When women are just allowed to talk, and a film is developed around these conversations with no sense of cliché or prefabrication, the most beautiful truths are uttered and observed. Audiences don't have to worry about contrived circumstances, hammy acting, or stereotypical characters. The women on screen as just being themselves, even if they are characters to an extent, and the dialogue is just so utterly fucking refreshing because as soon as you hear it you know it is real. They talk just a little bit over one another as real people do, they stumble and stutter randomly as we all do sometimes, they tell jokes that fall flat but our acquaintances laugh at anyway. That's life, and it feels so good to see it on screen with such wonderful realness, especially on the decidedly unsexy theme of depicting the elderly.

A newly perfect movie needs to be filmed expertly, and this surely is absolutely beautiful cinematography from David De Volpi of the Quebec forests, lakes, and green hills and grasses. But an even more magical thing happens in-between those gorgeous shots and revealing conversations: Scott shows small montages of photos from the women's real life, past and present, to further highlight the thematic elements of aging and mortality. These moments are just another heartbeat in the rhythm of this little miracle of a movie.

I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a picture this much. Absolutely magnificent.

Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.

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