Film - Major Arcana

Steve Taylor-Bryant heads for the hills to watch Major Arcana, which premiered last night at Raindance Film Festival...

A long-troubled itinerant carpenter returns home to small town Vermont and attempts to build a log cabin by hand, hoping to free himself from a cycle of poverty and addiction. But when he reconnects with Sierra, a woman with whom he shares a complicated past, he becomes locked in a desperate struggle between the person he was and the person he hopes to become.

There was something refreshing about Major Arcana and for the life of me I couldn’t put my finger on it until the end credits rolled. It turned out the refreshing element of the film was its simplicity. I watch a lot of films and television. I’m not complaining, just stating that I watch more than the average person might, therefore I am exposed to any number of ways that a film or show has been put together for a viewer’s consumption and I honestly can’t remember a time when I got something so stripped back and basic to watch. This is not an insult or a slight, this is nothing negative, because it was for exactly those reasons that Major Arcana was such a pleasing experience. The story is simple, a man lost in the world not sure of his place or who he wants to be. Comes from a troubled small-town background, got in some trouble elsewhere, decides to quit the demon booze and use his carpentry skills to better himself. When his father dies he is left a rundown shack of a house with 52 acres of land, which he decides he is going to build a log cabin on. It is this back to nature, back to basics element of the story that most appeals, it resonates. We have all got busy lives and, some of us more than others, have problems within those lives we wish we could run from.

In a world full of superheroes, mine is Dink (Ujon Tokarski) who, despite trouble from his alcoholic mother who just wants his money, finds his solitude and calling and starts to build his cabin. There is something stunningly beautiful about Dink’s chosen life, disappearing into the woods to chop down trees and build a house, and what writer/director Josh Melrod and his cinematographer Ramsey Fendall have done is follow Dink’s example and gone back to basics. There are no clever camera filters to enhance a mood, the mood that comes down the lens is from natural light, from shadow, from the tree canopy above the cabin site, from the beautiful Vermont landscape, and it's this way of portraying the story that really shines.

In a story with a small cast and a minimalist approach you maybe wouldn’t expect to find many highlights, and yet Major Arcana is packed with them. The story is yes, a bit simple, but it tells about important elements of life in manageable ways. It deals with addiction and recovery but at no point feels preachy. The performance of Ujon Tokarski, an actor I am not familiar with, is a highlight. There is a sense of honesty, but also of a life lived, in his eyes that back up his physical and verbal acting. There is a wonderful turn by an actress I do know, Tara Summers from shows like Boston Legal and Mercy Street, who, as Sierra, acts as the perfect foil for Ujon’s Dink. He thinks Sierra is who he wants and who complete his life, but she adds more confusion and pressure with her erratic and somewhat volatile lifestyle. Another highlight is to see so much screen time committed purely to seeing something built by hand. Watching Dink as he goes from the seed of an idea to this mini church looking finished cabin was a marvellous treat for the viewer and it was this whole nature thing that just really appealed to me.

Beautifully shot and excellently performed, in Major Arcana Josh Melrod has put together a stunning back to basics film and one that is desperately needed in a world of forceful technology.

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Image - Raindance

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