Review: ‘Heart of the Sun’

A sweeping melodrama set during the Depression on the Canadian prairies, "Heart of the Sun" is long on sincerity but significantly short of emotional punch. Not likely to make headway in the crowded theatrical market, pic might be best served on the small screen: Handsomely made, with some strong key performances, the film is in step with historic sagas that have become popular tube fare.

A sweeping melodrama set during the Depression on the Canadian prairies, “Heart of the Sun” is long on sincerity but significantly short of emotional punch. Not likely to make headway in the crowded theatrical market, pic might be best served on the small screen: Handsomely made, with some strong key performances, the film is in step with historic sagas that have become popular tube fare.

The story centers on Jennie McGrane (Christianne Hirt), an emotionally cloistered farmer’s wife in a remote Alberta community. She believes her inability to have a child is some sort of punishment from the heavens.

In fact, the true nature of her situation is considerably more insidious. Through her journey of discovery, the viewer learns of an illicit relationship with the local priest (Michael Riley) and an operation that renders her infertile and which involved the complicity of church, state and her family.

The piece rests too strongly on social issues. An afterword delineates the practice of Eugenics, a policy of sterilization on “moral” grounds that was in force earlier in the century. Script by Kim Hogan (based on a play) is relentlessly earnest, telegraphing key plot points and undercutting the emotion when the principal characters are confronted with the “shocking” truth.

Most of the cast have little more than a single note to play, particularly Riley as the shameless priest. Considerably better is Shaun Johnston as Jennie’s steadfast, likable husband (Johnston also serves as the pic’s co-producer). Hirt goes through a roller coaster of emotions and emerges as the piece’s most magnetic personality despite the ocean of tears she’s asked to shed.

Director Francis Damberger demonstrates more skill as a technician than a dramatist. The story is often played at a near-hysteric pitch that borders on parody, with a lush score underlining how we’re supposed to respond. Still, he maintains a jaunty pace and, via d.p. Peter Wunstorf’s images, effectively evokes a bygone era.

Heart of the Sun

(PERIOD DRAMA -- CANADIAN)

Production

A Dancing Stones Film production in association with Makara Pictures, Ennerdale Prods. and Screen Partners. (International sales: Beyond Films, Sydney.) Produced by Kim Hogan, Brenda Liles. Executive producers, Sydney Banks, Liles. Co-producer, Shaun Johnston. Directed by Francis Damberger. Screenplay, Kim Hogan, based on the play "Jennie's Story" by Betty Lambert. Camera (Alpha Cine color, Panavision widescreen), Peter Wunstorf; editor, Lenka Svab; music, Simon Kendall; production designer/art director, Ken Rempel; costume designer, Wendy Partridge; sound (Dolby), Shane Connelly; assistant director, Craig Wallace; casting, Bette Chadwick, Russell Gray. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (Panorama Canada), Aug. 30, 1998. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Jennie McGrane ..... Christianne Hirt Harry McGrane ..... Shaun Johnston Father Edward Fabrizeau ..... Michael Riley Edna Deliveau ..... Merrilyn Gann Jake Travers ..... Eric Johnson Molly ..... Jessica Carmichael Ol' Billy ..... Graham Greene
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