MRR Review: "Beneath the Harvest Sky"

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A teen drama set during the fall potato harvest in a small northern Maine town.
3

Rating: NR
Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: April 18, 2014
Directed by: Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly
Genre: Drama

"Beneath the Harvest Sky" is the first feature film from writers and directors Aron Guadet and Gita Pullapilly. The film follows 17-year-old best friends Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) as they plot to run away from their small town. Van Buren, Maine, is a small town on the Canadian border where teenagers grow up to run drugs over the border, work on blue potato farms or run away to a city. The closest city is Boston, 400 miles away.

Dominic and Casper quickly go from planning their escape to Boston to accepting their fate and staying in Van Buren once Casper's girlfriend, 15-year-old Tasha (Zoe Levin) tells him she's pregnant. Dominic refuses to leave town without Casper. This leaves both boys suddenly seeing the inevitability of their circumstances as their dream of watching Red Sox games crash down around them, and they must face the reality of spending their lives in Van Buren.

"Beneath the Harvest Sky" is a coming-of-age story about the tragic inevitability of geography. The film demonstrates in a bleak, stark way how a person's upbringing can profoundly affect the future. The friendship between Dominic and Casper is central to the film. Dominic is the level-headed balance to Casper's hot-headed, adventurous personality. The story begins the week before Van Buren's Harvest Week, the one time of the year that harvesting potatoes is more important than school. Dominic is excited about the harvest because he can earn an additional paycheck.

Casper has bigger problems than earning a paycheck. He's just been told that he's about to be expelled from school for bad behavior and that he's going to be a father. Despite trying to be a good influence on Casper's rash behavior, Dominic gets pulled into the temptation of Casper's lifestyle, creating a believable account of teenage relationships. Rather than combining the funds of their small savings to buy a car to run away to Boston, Casper ends up working for his father, Clayton (Aidan Gillen), along with his brother, Badger (Timm Sharp). Dominic works in the potato fields, where he unsuccessfully tries to pursue a romantic relationship with Emma (Sarah Sutherland). Despite Dominic's best efforts, Emma views their relationship as nothing but a fling because she plans to go to college the next fall. Like many other teenagers who leave Van Buren, Emma does not plan to return.

Casper, Clayton and Badger smuggle Canadian prescription drugs over the border. Eventually, Badger is picked up by state drug enforcement officers who want him to provide evidence against his father. Each of these characters has the potential to significantly alter either Dominic's or Casper's lives. Because the film is so closely focused on the relationship between Casper and Dominic, the audience doesn't get to learn a lot about these secondary characters. The film is very focused on the present, leaving the majority of the backstory of the secondary characters to the audience's imagination.

Gaudet and Pullapilly shot the film in an almost documentary-like fashion despite the fact that it's a work of fiction. The majority of the footage was shot with hand-held cameras. Throughout the film, the characters are filmed in extreme close-up. The way that the film is shot helps the audience to feel that it is more authentic. The directors also effectively utilize the stark, largely vacant rural agricultural environment to further emphasize the hopelessness of the story. A potential challenge to the directors is that filming so close to the border could offer distinctly Canadian elements that would ruin the effect of the rural America environment. The directors circumvented this issue by utilizing a creative editing style and keeping the characters firmly rooted in their surroundings.

"Beneath the Harvest Sky" is an honest, dark portrayal of the difficult decisions and limited options that can be presented to teenagers based simply on where they live. In what is commonly known as the land of opportunity, "Beneath the Harvest Sky" demonstrates that not everyone is given the same chances. It is a beautiful, poignant portrayal of the deep loyalty of friendship, even in the face of terrible odds. Despite everything that Dominic and Casper experience and all of the choices that they are forced to make, the one constant throughout the film is their unwavering loyalty to each other. It is this depth of friendship that gives an otherwise bleak film a glimmer of hope for the future of these characters. It also shows the audience that no matter how dark or unlucky their circumstances may seem, these two characters are lucky because they have someone to depend on. "Beneath the Harvest Sky" is well worth the nearly two-hour running time. It keeps audience attention from the first scene to the last. It leaves the audience with sadness for the plight of these characters and hope that they manage to change their futures.