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Priceless 'Milk'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2001

   


    'The Price of Milk' Karl Urban and Danielle Cormack in "The Price of Milk." (Lot 47 Films)
Magic, folklore and bizarre road accidents are just some of the ingredients in "The Price of Milk," a sweet, creamy romance set amid the lush, green hills of New Zealand.

Well, this modern fairy tale is set in nonspecific dairy farming country, but the characters are clearly from that part of the world. For instance, Mrs. Jackson (Rangi Motu), a sort of genial Maori version of Ma Barker, runs a gang of young fellow tribesmen dressed in golfing attire.

Known only as "Auntie," she's in the trade of stealing people's quilts from around this pastoral neighborhood. Why? Because Auntie gets really cold. At one point, we see a picture of her lying asleep under a three-foot-thick pile of quilts. They're all stolen, of course.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. Harry Sinclair's movie is about the powerful love between Rob (Karl Urban) and Lucinda (Danielle Cormack), two people who live for no one and nothing but each other.

Farmer Rob does have his cows but, really, he loves Lucinda madly. Unfortunately, Lucinda gets this notion that things are a little too perfect: Rob may be utterly devoted, hard-working and sincere. But has their love ever been really tested? She feels driven to shake things up a little.

For starters, she knocks off his beer. Not very nice. Then she jumps into -- and spoils -- a vat of his fresh milk bound for market. Bad, bad, bad. Rob can handle all that, but when Lucinda gives away his entire herd of cows (valued at $400,000) to retrieve their prize quilt (stolen by You Know Who), something snaps. Rob becomes so upset, he loses his voice and squeaks semi-coherently like Stan Laurel.

"I might have pushed it a bit too far," admits Lucinda, who has to face something more calamitous than lost cattle: the potential loss of love.

There's little to this boy-loves-girl-loses-livestock story. In fact, there is no screenwriter even credited. Director Sinclair wrote a 30-page synopsis, then encouraged the actors to improvise their parts as they went along.

"The Price of Milk" is about the magic of many things, including the love between two earnest hearts and the wonder of this bucolic world. And all fairy tale rules apply: I mean, no one ever questions bad luck. It's all a part of fate, apparently. When Auntie steals that very special quilt, Lucinda doesn't call the police; she begs Auntie to reconsider instead. And when Rob and Lucinda realize their love is in trouble, they don't seek counseling or Talk About It; they wait for bigger, atmospheric powers to intervene. They wait for love to right itself -- without a bill from a professional consultant.

But that's the charm of this movie: It trusts in the powerful, indefinable mysteries, just as its principal characters do. But it's broader than mere fairy tale. "The Price of Milk" manages to be innocent, physically passionate, earnestly romantic and self-deprecatingly funny, all at once. And what a treat it is to visit this corner of the world. Cinematographer Leon Narbey takes full advantage of the gorgeous landscapes and their full array of colors, from the pure greens of that mountain grass to the frothy white of milk. But he's not oblivious to the garish, either, most notably, the hideously inorganic orange of Auntie's artificial fur hat. You ain't seen nothing till you've seen that hat moving against the pretty foliage.

THE PRICE OF MILK (PG-13, 87 minutes) -- Contains nudity, sexual situations, drug use and comedic road accidents.

 

Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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