on their knees (2002)

director: anais granofsky

anais granofsky, ingrid veninger, peter stebbings

It should be obvious by now that the last thing the Canadian film industry needs is a film that strives to succeed simply by virtue of being Canadian. Beyond that, the last thing Canada probably needs is another road movie.

On Their Knees - the title seems, disturbingly, utterly unconnected with the film - begins with the death of a grandmother who raised two little girls after their mother, her daughter, died. The girls - Willie the bad girl and her half-sister Mo the wallflower - have grown apart, but decide to bring her body back to the family she left behind years earlier, so they head east in an old ice cream truck, the better to keep the body fresh. Any resemblace to Bruce McDonald's 1991 road movie Highway 61, where yet another wild girl and a wimp haul a body cross country, are purely unfortunate, and a harbinger of a series of other, equally tired choices.

Willie (writer/director Anais Granofsky) inevitably brings out the wild girl in her timid sister Mo (Ingrid Veninger), and when they're not robbing their way across country to pay for gas and flare guns, inexplicably dressed in Elvis jumpsuits, they're streaking through the woods to demonstrate how liberated they're becoming. In the meantime, the body of their beloved granny, stuffed into a duffel bag, is being dragged and shoved in and out of the truck, into ice-filled bathtubs and, eventually, manhandled the last miles of the trip with scant reverence or affection, like the mere plot motivator that it is, less baggage than prop.

Set to a soundtrack of contemporary Canadian "hits" by Sarah Harmer, the New Pornographers and Molly Johnson, among others, the film strains hard to connect with some kind of shared national aesthetic that may not actually exist. Granofsky's story might have succeeded on its own terms, without trying to hit so many hoary cliches of rebellion and "sisterhood", and if it had ignored the broad, meaningless abstraction of "Canadianness" in favor of a bit more attention to the little-known history of East Coast black Canadians.

As it is, the funeral that ends the film seems perfunctory and overwrought at the same time; perhaps it's the final, depressingly obvious choice of "Amazing Grace" on the soundtrack, or the fact that the body in the casket has been dragged overland with so little reverence. In any case, the message of family and redemption it implies is admirable but unearned.