Published Sep 01, 2001
Next to talking about the weather and bemoaning the state of hockey, waxing poetic on national identity is a typical Canadian pastime. To this discussion, then, I present the answer: "On Their Knees."
Veteran actress Anais Granofsky casts her writing and directorial sophomore feature film to the silver screen for us to reflect upon. She and Ingrid Veninger portray sisters Wilowmena and Maureen, determined to return their Nan's remains to their ancestral home Down East.
"On Their Knees" is essentially a road film on many different levels. The pair is in search of themselves, each other, and their common ground. I have yet to figure out how the title came about. At no point do you get the idea that any character is down. They are both strong and determined and while they meet obstacles they haven't crossed before, the sisters deftly push them aside and proceed with their patched together plan.
It is a pure Canadian independent film, in the absolute best sense. While it may not intentional, "On Their Knees" is "Going Down the Road" in reverse. It is taken from the perspective of two women who are leaving their unfulfilled lives to seek out what they left behind. Perhaps it's due to budget that Canadian road films always seem to pick the most unroad-worthy vehicles: beater cars, railway cars, Zambonis, ice cream trucks. It may be characteristic of our self-effacing humour, but we always seem to get there and have great adventures doing so. Such automobiles are such a fixture of our modern Canadian landscape that to forgo eccentricity for convention would simply not work.
The film is wonderfully rampant with childhood symbols, such as the ice cream truck. Granofsky does this so carefully and with tremendous attention to detail. Memories are traveled through home movies and photos; similar to how we remember things anyway. Was it real? Did it happen, or do I just remember the photo? The narration helps to successfully carry off the flashbacks so they aren't the usual trite fare. From beginning to end, we see faces that are familiar and make us smile. By the end of the journey we feel like we've caught up with the television family we grew up watching with our own.
Coupled with the film is a tremendous soundtrack featuring music from the simmering best of Canadian independent music. Included are songs from New Pornographers, Sara Harmer, the Backstabbers, Oh Susanna amongst others. The bands, like the filmmaker, pay homage to tradition with modern eyes. In the search for tradition, we create our own.
"On Their Knees" is the comfy homespun afghan we wrap ourselves in while we watch the sunset with our favorite aunt. If the state of Canadian culture is represented by this film and music, we are in good hands.