April 14, 2010

Barking Water at Northwest Film Forum

The Art House Beat:  "Barking Water" and "Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky" at NWFF

By Bill WhiteNative American film maker Sterlin Harjo’s (“Four Sheets to the Wind) second feature is that rare road film in which little seems to happen, yet overflows with the essence of all humanity. When Frankie (Richard Ray Whitman) is diagnosed with a terminal disease, his estranged lover Irene (Casey Camp-Horinek) agrees to accompany him on a trip to reconcile with his daughter and the grandchild he has never seen. Along the way, the love that has followed them in and out of the episodes of their lives emerges in all its conflicted glory.

Filmed in Oklahoma, “Barking Water” is as spare as dirt-road vegetation and as rich as the play of light across sun-streaked skies. Frankie and Irene don’t say much to each other, but their glances are filled with lacerated hopes and the shards of not quite forgotten disappointments. Both Whitman and Camp-Horinek give performances that are so honest, so true, that they seem to be as much a part of the wind and the rock as they are of each other.

The themes of love, regret, and the inexorable passing of time are treated with a stoic delicacy that is deepened by every crease in Frankie and Irene’s faces. On the road, they have several encounters with young people who comment on their oldness with attitudes ranging from awe to disrespect. But their aging is not only human but the aging also of the land, the aging of history. As they drive across Oklahoma, it is not only Frankie taking a last look at the world in which he has lived, but the wind making its last visit across the dying man’s still searching face.

Watching “Barking Water,” we can’t help but think of how many centuries the Choctaw tribes have lived in this land now called Oklahoma, and how many stories have been played out beneath this sun. When we consider how limited is the range of American experience that is glorified in our movies, we realize that our desires and concerns are but a sliver in the whole circle of life surrounding us. Sharing this road trip with Frankie and Irene enriches not only our sense of humanity but brings us closer to confronting our own nature as creatures in the wild who are fortunate to feel the wind and the splashing of rain across our faces.
Barking Water:  Death Without Tears in Indian Country

By Brian MillerSprung out of the hospital by his ex-girlfriend, Frankie (Richard Ray Whitman) is clearly dying. That he is an Indian dying in Indian country makes his homeward journey inherently symbolic. A couple of old-timers are driving an old Volvo wagon to a certain funeral, and the old ways may be dying, too. Barking Water is hardly a cheerful representation of Native America (specifically, Oklahoma). And yet writer/director Sterlin Harjo is a Seminole-Creek Indian, and he refuses to detour the trip into sentimentality or pathos. Frankie and Irene (Casey Camp-Horinek) were never married, and there are suggestions he may've been a bastard to her. But happier memories—seen in flashbacks faded like Polaroids—keep them going. They visit a few family members, including a pair of "Yo, wassup" reservation homies, but mainly Harjo lets the landscape steer the story. Road dust and sun-flared car windows, wind moving through yellowed prairie, empty branches clawing the shuddering sky—these hints of autumn abound. Much of the movie consists of road-trip montage (set to native songs and indie rock). The mood is melancholy, but not quite regretful. They're drivin', not cryin'. "I finally feel like I'm figuring it out," says Frankie. "And, damn, I'm out the door." It's not a complaint or epiphany, just another observation as the miles click past.Comment:  For more on the subject, see Mini-Review of Barking Water and Barking Water Trailer.

Below:  "Richard Ray Whitman and Casey Camp-Horinek give deeply affecting performances as estranged lovers who take one last road trip together in Barking Water."

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