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A Perfect Day for Caribou

Pristine black and white feature tells the tale of fathers and sons, lost and found, failure and connection - live from Locarno


Fatherhood and failure are the subjects of Jeff Rutherford’s ambling debut feature. Jen Berrier plays Herman, a man who finds himself at the end of the road with a filched pickup truck packed with his belongings. He is recording a message for his son Nate (Charlie Plummer), explaining “I don’t want you to know me as just the father who killed himself”. A fortuitous phone call from Nate offers Herman an opportunity to meet and talk with his son face to face and meet his young grandson Ralph. However when they do meet – in a windswept cemetery – Ralph goes missing and father and son go on a meandering search for the lost boy.

Filmed in a pristine black and white, Alfonso Herrera Salcedo’s cinematography is as sharp as a pencil sketch made with a H2 pencil. The 4:3 ratio underlines the contained littleness of the story even as the characters are dwarfed beneath huge skies and epic open landscapes. There seems to be little urgency in the search for Ralph as if the characters know that his absence is more a metaphorical underscoring than an actual child in danger. Nate is seeking to reconnect with his father as a way to also understand if he is going to repeat the mistakes that Herman made. Herman in his turn finds that the ease with which he spoke to his son via the dictaphone is replaced by a shuffling inability to communicate. When Nate tells him Ralph has some behavioral problems – he only eats food on the right side of his plate – Herman keeps mistakenly wondering if Ralph has a hole in his head.

A careless hunter and a black janitor wander into the action as well as vaguely lost as the main characters but they skim off the surface of the story, making barely a ripple.

The ghosts of other films haunt Rutherford’s first feature. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013) is an obvious influence, while in its offbeat characters and quirky dialogue there’s also the feel of early Hal Hartley. The opening of the film superbly sets up an unexpected character and a story that is going in an unexpected direction. Little flashbacks appear as silent slices of the past, memories stubbornly lurking.

However as the film goes on the dialogue becomes grating in its obvious writtenness. Berrier can handle it, suggesting a man at the end of his frayed rope, but Plummer is less convincing: a callow twenty-something with an oh-for-goodness-sake-cut-it haircut. And the lack of urgency becomes stultifying and when two characters decide to play paper-scissors-stone it feels less Jarmusch and more B roll. It also has to be said that using a suicide as a trope to give a character heft should really be stopped. It’s cheap and unhealthy.

A Perfect Day for Caribou showed at the 75th Locarno International Film Festival.

By John Bleasdale - 08-08-2022

John Bleasdale is a film critic and writer based in Italy. He has published a novel entitled Blood is on the Grass and a book of short stories as well as a number of articles and features. His work ha...

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