Margaret Atwood famously said that the theme of Canadian literature is survival, and certainly my high school reading list (As For Me and My House, Wild Geese, Under the Ribs of Death) suggested that prairie life in the early 20th century was a grim slog.
How to explore that grim slog without becoming a grim slog is the issue with the film Mad Ship, which was lensed last year in rural Manitoba and has its Winnipeg premiere tonight. (Filmmaker David Mortin will be in attendance for a Q&A session.)
Tomas (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Solveig (Line Verndal) are Scandinavian immigrants who've come to Canada to start a better life, only to be dragged down by drought and the Great Depression. When their struggles take a tragic turn, Tomas is determined to get his wife home, even if that means building his own boat.
The script, by director Mortin and co-writer Patricia Fogliato, draws on the true and profoundly sad story of Tom Sukanen, a Finnish farmer who built a wooden ship in the middle of Saskatchewan in the 1930s. This fictionalized (and also profoundly sad) story retains the central metaphor of the landlocked boat but can't quite muster its mad, valiant poetry.