Northern Lights -- Inner Circle.
It's amazing what young people can produce in the way of crafts, if they have the interest and patience to pay attention to their grandparents. Rob Nilsson, whose grandfather was North Dakota's first cinematographer, and John Hanson; who grew up on his grandfather's North Dakota farm, have made a movie about North Dakota in 1915 that is so cleverly "antiqued" it looks as if old snapshopts are coming to life.
"Northern Lights," which won the 1979 Cannes Film Festival award for best first feature, is actually about the development of the populist farm movement, the Nonpartisan League. But so craftsmanlike are the two filmmakers that it seems to be as unplotted as a slow trip through a huge family album.
This is not a completely captivating way to present a dramatic film. The idea that hard times forced Ray and Inga to keep putting off their marriage is shown over and over and over again until it becomes ludicrous. The kindest and most interested of descendants would be unable to keep from producing, "But, Grandpa, you finally did get married didn't you?"
But the technique is certainly impressive. The film is shot in grainy black and white, with the skyward compsition of old photographs of the midwest and hazy kerosene lighting for interior scenes. Life plods on in an utterly realistic way. Even the villain, as represented by a foreclosing banker, is only momentarily villainous. This is polics, not personalities. The problem of overcoming farmers' political inertia is so convincingly shown that it becomes hard to believe that it was ever actually done.
There are almost no false notes -- an anachronistic slangy expression or two, perhaps. The faces look 1915-ish at least as we know them from photographs. Characters are allowed to lapse in mid-thought from English into their Scandinavian dialects, as immigrants would, and the film obligingly follows them with subtitles. The very fields seem to be in the period.
The result is a very workmanlike job, well made, sturdy, convincing, the nearest thing one can get to the genuine period piece -- and very plain.