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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.03.12] Canada drama romance

Tomas and Solveig are married with two children living in the Canadian prairie during the Great Depression. The family, Scandinavian immigrants who came to Canada to build a better life, find themselves at the receiving end of some severely bad luck. The bank carried them through the previous year and a dust storm has wiped out their entire crop leaving the family broke with no food and no means of generating income. Desperate to keep themselves afloat, Tomas heads to the city in search of work leaving Solveig and the children to fend for themselves.

From the opening scenes its clear that Mad Ship isn't a happy tale of survival and what starts off badly only gets worse as this family's already dire circumstances get progressively worse. Solveig, desperate to keep the household intact while her husband is away looking for work, comes to an agreement with Cameron, the bank representative, an agreement that will ultimately cost her and the family greatly.

Tomas returns home from a failed job in the city to find his wife dead and the family in shambles. Driven to madness by his perceived failings, he spends the next few days in a fevered dream state, ignoring everything including his children, to build a ship, convinced that things will be better if he can get his wife home.

Unlike many dramas that play just as well on the big screen as the small, Mad Ship begs to be seen on the big screen. Gorgeously shot in Manitoba, the beautiful setting is as much a part of the movie as the characters themselves and the vast emptiness, contrasted with the lush green beauty of Tomas and Solveig's homeland, is a poignant visual, particularly when combined with the emotional turmoil that follows these characters.

Mad Ship isn't content simply being a story of survival, or lack there of, during one of the most difficult periods in modern history. The tale, co-written by Patricia Fogliato and David Mortin, who also directs, is also one of love, redemption and ultimate sacrifice. It's a universal story of immigration and the hardship that comes with it but it's also a deeply sorrowful love story about two people who will do anything, at any cost, for each other, with mixed results.

Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Line Verndal, two exceptionally talented international actors, beautifully capture the love and sacrifice at the core of this story while Canadian icon Gil Bellows plays the banker. In this story where the dangers are external intangible forces beyond control, Cameron as the bank representative becomes the embodiment of everything evil and wrong with the world yet Bellows brings a humanity and a surprising amount of sympathy to the character which humanises him. It's a thankless role but one in which he excels.

Though it takes a bit of time to find its pace, Mad Ship does eventually find its footing and unfolds a touching story of perseverance. Some will find it difficult if not impossible to buy into the idea that Tomas would abandon his children to a near stranger in his efforts to get his dead wife home but the sacrifice is only one of many faced by a man who has been beaten by the world.

In the end Mad Ship doesn't provide any answers. We never find out if Tomas makes the crossing and is reunited with his children or whether his life ends in the attempt and the ambiguous ending works, providing yet another discussion point but ultimately, the ending is inconsequential to a movie which bears its love and heartbreak so openly throughout.

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