Posted by: Craig Woolheater on July 6th, 2011
By Tom von Logue Newth
The career of director Christopher Munch has not yet lived up to the promise of his Lennon/Epstein fantasy, The Hours and the Times (1991). He was present at this year’s LA Film Festival with his latest, Letters From the Big Man, a most unusual tale of a forestry worker getting to know the Sasquatch. It’s not likely to propel him into the big time, and frequently skirts the risible, but does turn out to possess something like the stubbornly individual charm of its protagonist.
Forestry service hydrologist Sarah is played by Lily Rabe (daughter of Jill Clayburgh), unafraid to be sour or unfriendly, a young woman leaving behind a broken relationship to return to the solitary existence she loves best, in the wilderness of southwest Oregon. There’s a whole load of business with a government agency planning to clear a section for a secret base (developing Sasquatch for military use?) and some fussing between eco-types and forestry officials. But Sarah would rather be left alone in the woods with her sketchbook and watercolors. Not least, we realize, as she has started to befriend the Sasquatch who sits mournfully in the sunrise and beats trees with logs in the dead of night.
After Sarah’s initial suspicions that something is out there with her, the getting to know one another of man and beast is largely elided until we realize at the end that they have become much closer than we have been allowed to see. It’s a bit of a cheat, but one that evokes the secretive, personal nature of the bond. Munch also avoids heavy explanation of the myth, giving us snatches that reveal the creatures to live in some crepuscular trans-dimensional state, but which also falls back on stuff like infrasound, chosen ones and a wise old bearded woodsman.
The landscape is shot with frequent beauty (by Munch regular Rob Sweeney): the Kalmiopsis Wilderness is the real star. The Big Man is surprisingly un-silly, but lines like “you must see us with your heart” undercut our tolerance for the whimsy; the medievel-tinged classical score is pleasant, but repeatedly overblown. Some of the more poetic elements of the film-making work better than those that skirt gesturism, but the cumulative effect is genuine, and the exhortation to ”feel more deeply” narrowly avoids being a platitude, as that is just what Sarah quietly learns to do. The sheer difference and self-containedness of woodland life is effectively conveyed and Rabe efficiently conveys that this is Sarah’s most natural habitat; we are happy to see her depart for a Diane Fossey-style year with the Sasquatch, away from all the real-world nonsense, and happy too that for all its wonkiness, the film has its heart at the right place, and a prickly performance at its heart.
Letters from the Big Man
(USA, 2011, 115 mins)
Directed By: Christopher Munch
Executive Producer: Linda Brown
Producer: Christopher Munch
Screenwriter: Christopher Munch
Cinematographer: Rob Sweeney
Cast: Lily Rabe, Jason Butler Harner, Isaac C. Singleton Jr., Jim Cody Williams, Fiona Dourif, Don McManus, Karen Black
Music: Ensemble Galilei
Questions of human nature, ecology, and cryptozoology lie at the heart of the latest singular film from writer-director Christopher Munch. No matter how deep into the forest she goes, a young Forestry Service worker can’t escape the feeling that someone is watching her. Only after a few sightings—in person and in dreams—does she realize her trailmate is a Sasquatch.
Munch, aided by a marvelous central performance by Lily Rabe and the sun-dappled cinematography of Rob Sweeney, has crafted a lyrical ode to the relationship between man and nature that is as timeless and magical as the legends of the Pacific Northwest.