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Getting Married in Buffalo Jump
A Review by Carole Gordon
"Will Sophie marry Alex?" That is the plot of Getting Married in Buffalo Jump. But to infer from this narrative simplicity that this is a superficial romantic movie would be to miss a world of nuance, depth and feeling. This is a love story in which no-one says, "I love you"; a passionate film, yet with little overt passion. A film of dignity and charm which embraces the expanse of Alberta's beautiful but harsh landscape and sets it against the unfolding relationship of Sophie (Wendy Crewson) and Alex (Paul Gross).
Few directors display Eric Till's confidence to allow their audience moments of stillness. Here, the natural tranquillity of the setting is allowed to counterpoint the gentle turbulence of the unfolding relationship, itself portrayed mostly as sub-text. As Sophie says of Alex, "He's so under-the-surface", perfectly describing both the film and Paul Gross's beautifully restrained and minimalist performance, making Alex's quiet but fierce intelligence shine through a soft Alberta drawl. Two scenes in particular highlight this subtlety and restraint. Sophie's mother, fiercely opposed to the match between Alex and Sophie - initially at least a business proposition to help Sophie run the ranch left her by her father - and wanting "better" for her only child, harangues Alex while he works on a piece of machinery. He says little. And later, as he tends his horse, Sophie's brittle city friend, Eleanor (a delightful cameo by Victoria Snow), accuses him of being a gold-digger - and he says nothing at all. But even when saying nothing, even without facing the audience, Paul Gross shows exactly what Alex is thinking with just the slightest gesture, set of his shoulders or the merest movement of his head, infusing the silence with a wealth of emotion.
Not that Wendy Crewson is overshadowed by her co-star. She is perfectly cast as the would-be city sophisticate whose heart has remained in the country, vulnerable yet determined to succeed. She develops a genuine chemistry in the relationship with Alex, making what might otherwise seem an unlikely partnership thoroughly credible.
Behind the relationship, this is also a story about the clash of cultures, conflicts between immigrant and older communities, between the Ukrainian and Scottish newcomers, and the native Canadian population, these sub-plots handled with considerable finesse.
Suffusing his film with a wonderful light, the director can be forgiven the occasional visual cliché (silhouettes against the sunset, for example), because overall this is a heart-warming movie which, like much other output from the Canadian cinema industry, deserves a good deal more exposure than it has received.