dir. Polish

Opens Fri Aug 1

Cinema 21

There is something wonderful happening in Northfork, something not easily pigeonholed. The final installment of the Polish Brothers' indie trilogy--which began with the inspired Twin Falls, Idaho, then stumbled with the karaoke blunder Jackpot--Northfork is a challenging picture. It's an exercise in magical realism and a rumination on death that makes you realize what is truly great about cinema.

Am I over-praising? Possibly, but even if Northfork is not entirely successful, its mystery and beauty can't be denied. The story: In 1955, the small heartland of Northfork is about to disappear, a casualty of a newly constructed hydroelectric dam. In an attempt to move every resident out, an evacuation committee (made up of trenchcoated, fedora-capped men) has been assembled. These men make their way through the eerie and near-empty area, trying to coax the few remaining holdouts from their land. Meanwhile, a sickly orphan, confined to bed and afflicted with feverish dreams, lies under the care of a local pastor (Nick Nolte). The inhabitants of the boy's dreams: a pack of mangy angels who may or may not be searching for him.

Filmed with little more than a gray palette, Northfork moves at a deliberate pace, holding your attention by only offering explanations when they are absolutely needed; the cards are kept close to chest here, which is a cinematic skill long on the rim of extinction. There are no easy answers in Northfork, but in a summer when the bulk of films are closer to a jar of Gerber baby food than intelligent adult flicks, a little respite is certainly in order. From the opening shot, of a dark lake that is curiously sprouting coffins from beneath its surface, the Polish Brothers have crafted a film that is gorgeous, confusing, and occasionally sad. A film that does what all the best films do: inspire argument.