Andrew Sarris' immortal category terminology in his pantheon of filmmakers, "Strained Seriousness," exactly applies to Anais Granofsky's "The Limb Salesman": a sci-fi drama dressed in beaux art style. Pic's world of eco catastrophes is unconvincing. This one won't sell outside of Canada, and local prospects look mighty chilly.

Andrew Sarris’ immortal category terminology in his pantheon of filmmakers, “Strained Seriousness,” exactly applies to Anais Granofsky’s “The Limb Salesman”: a sci-fi drama anachronistically dressed in beaux art style. Pic’s world of eco catastrophes — where water is a prized (even intoxicating) commodity and genetic therapy is used to provide limbs to the limbless — is unconvincing, due to a parched script and extremely pinched production values. This one won’t sell outside of Canada, and local prospects look mighty chilly.

Dr. Gabriel Goode (Peter Stebbings) heads to a remote northern Canadian town where he has been commissioned by stern, gruff capitalist Abe (Clark Johnson) to fix up his legless daughter Clara (co-writer Ingrid Veninger) with new limbs. First sight of Abe’s gabled house, standing alone in a giant snowy field, suggests “Giant” and “Days of Heaven,” and John Weisman’s majestic, medieval-style score offers a tease for a film with terrific sights and sounds.

That promise soon dries up, however, in a scenario that demands much more exposition and physical production than this project can afford. Among the many background details is an apparently huge underground mining operation — run by Abe and coordinated by son Charles (Charles Officer) — in which ice is extracted for the pricey water. Why the liquid also gives off a buzz is never explained. Even the medical advances to allow for body parts to be preserved, bought, sold and attached are barely credible.

Goode finds himself in the midst of a squabbling clan full of kooks including gabby aunt Loli (Jackie Burroughs, who acts like she’s in a Tennessee Williams parody). An even weirder fellow (Julian Richings), who behaves like an update of the typical mad scientist, has a stock of body parts from which Goode obtains Clara’s legs.

Except for expressive work from Stebbings, Granofsky’s cast strains, and even the usually terrific Johnson seems out of sorts in a badly conceived role. Though the filmic style indicates a hyperclassicism, there’s a distinct emotional emptiness under the intimate, elegant trimmings. Digital image is sharp in film transfer, though whites (and there is a whole lot of them) appear yellowish onscreen.

The Limb Salesman

Canada

Production

A Punk Films and Darius Films presentation. (International sales: Shoreline Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Produced by Nicholas D. Tabarrok, Anais Granofsky, Ingrid Veninger. Executive producer, Ram Fakeer. Directed by Anais Granofsky. Screenplay, Granofsky, Ingrid Veninger; story, Granofsky.

Crew

Camera (Soho Digital color, 24p DV-to-35mm), D. Gregor Hagey; editor, Ronald Sanders; music, John Weisman; production designer, Diana Abbatangelo; costume designer, Shannon Pomakov; sound (Dolby Digital), Garrett Kerr; makeup, Ana Sorys. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 12, 2004. Running time: 79 MIN.

With

Peter Stebbings, Ingrid Veninger, Charles Officer, Clark Johnson, Jackie Burroughs, Julian Richings, Stan Granofsky, Geoff Murrin, Jim Murrin.
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