(aka Strangers in Good Company) 

Dir. Cynthia Scott. Canada. 1990

Talking Pictures alias







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Big budgets, special effects, name actors are not required to produce a film that is entertaining, wise, and full of humanity. If you doubt that, I invite you to see Cynthia Scott’s 1990 film The Company of Strangers (aka Strangers in Good Company), produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Seven non-professional actresses share stories about their past, their fears, and their hopes in a deserted farmhouse after their tour bus breaks down in an isolated rural area of Quebec. While there is a screenplay, written by the late Gloria Demers, the dialogue is mostly improvised and the actresses talk about real events in their lives, the things that have meaning to them.

In a setting of rare natural beauty near Mont Tremblant, photographed by David de Volpi, the women do whatever it takes to stay alive until help comes. They dance, sing, play cards, exercise, and survive by eating frog legs, mushrooms, strawberries and the fish they catch with an improvised net. Catherine (Catherine Roche), a high-spirited nun tries to fix the bus, but eventually has to give up and walk twenty miles on feet wrecked by arthritis to seek help. Another energetic presence is Michelle (Michelle Sweeney), the young bus driver who twists her ankle and cannot get around very well to help out. While we do not learn much about her life, she keeps up the spirits of the group with her ingratiating personality and powerful singing voice.

The women turn to Alice (Alice Diabo), a Mohawk Indian whose techniques learned from her grandmother, help in the healing process. The group is complemented by Mary (Mary Meigs), a watercolor painter and self-described lesbian, Winnie (Winifred Holden), a dancer and born comedian, and Cissy (Cissy Meddings), an English immigrant who is a stroke survivor with a buoyant spirit. Not all, however, are full of joy, especially the 92-year-old Constance ( Constance Garneau) who is no longer able to hear the song of a sparrow and thinks that this would be a good place to die.

There is also Beth (Beth Webber), a still attractive 80-year-old who buttons her collar all the way up to the top, wears a wig, and still mourns for her son who died at an young age. Even if the characters may seem pre-selected for their balance The Company of Strangers is an intimate film that feels completely genuine and the conversations about love and loss, religion and death, family and marriage ring true. As the women talk about their lives, the director intersperses photographs of the women as children, teenagers, and adults. Though an inevitable sadness comes up, the inner strength of the women keep the mood from turning dark and allows us to reflect on our own life, its joys and its sorrows.



Howard Schumann

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