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Cynthia Scott’s Strangers in Good Company is a fascinating part-documentary- part-narrative film that follows eight women stranded in a country house as they get to know each other through sharing their lives and their experiences aging. (NBA: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Nicole Ackman
Strangers in Good Company is a remarkably distinct Canadian film that is entirely female in focus. Directed by Cynthia Scott, this 1990 movie follows eight women on a bus tour who are stranded in the countryside after their bus breaks down. Also called The Company of Strangers, it shows how the women bond over the course of a few days spent in an abandoned farmhouse. It’s a very slow and meandering movie with little dramatic tension, but it does create an almost dreamlike atmosphere that allows us to get to know the seven elderly and one young woman.
The film is a piece of docufiction: half contrived narrative and half documentary. The bus scenario is fiction, and a basic outline was written by Scott, Sally Bochner, David Wilson, and Gloria Demers. But the dialogue was improvised, and the stories the women share are all from their own lives. The women aren’t playing characters, but are rather acting as themselves. The film has a sense of authenticity that I’ve never witnessed before because the audience is watching real people deal with a fictional situation.
The film’s cast consists of eight women who are very different from each other with seemingly little in common. They are a mix of American, Canadian, and English women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. The only young woman is the bus driver, who is also a jazz singer, Michelle Sweeney. Feminist writer and painter Mary Meigs appears as well. The diversity in the film is impressive, especially for the 1990s with a Black woman (Sweeney), a Mohawk elder (Alice Diabo), a lesbian (Meigs), and a Roman Catholic nun (Catherine Roche). It makes the film feel more up to date despite having been made thirty years ago. It is a credit to the director Scott that she captures such genuine and natural performances from these women who are not actors.
It’s touching to see these women explore the abandoned house they’re stranded in and bond with each other. They watch birds, attempt to fix the bus’s engine, and construct beds out of straw. The amiable way they all get along with little drama and how they swap stories from their current lives—and youth—is heartwarming. One of the most lovely moments is when Meig tells another woman that she is a lesbian, and her response is essentially, “Oh, that’s good.” The film’s intimate nature makes the audience feel as though they’re right there with these women, listening along as they chat.
It also is a glimpse of women that we don’t often see on film. First, it’s remarkable to have a film with no men present that is entirely focused on women simply existing together. But more importantly, the way that it deals with aging and mortality is unique. The women discuss their fears of dying, their medications, and their “aches and pains.” As they open up to each other more, they talk about their families and careers; one expresses how she gave up her artistic ambitions when she became a mother.
The film features some lovely shots of the countryside the women find themselves in, and a wonderful piano score composed and arranged by Marie Bernard. It definitely has the feel of a film from the late 1980s and early 1990s, even in its coloring. Towards the end of the movie, there is a very sweet scene of all the group joyfully singing a wordless song and dancing together. This scene epitomizes the film: celebrating the lives of these eight women and the experience of being together without the influences of men—or the outside world. Strangers in Good Company is a beautifully unique work, both in its topic and its docufiction execution.
© Nicole Ackman (9/12/20) FF2 Media
Photo: The cast of Strangers in Good Company.
Photo Credits: National Film Board of Canada
Q: Does Strangers in Good Company pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
There aren’t any male characters in the film, and the women discuss many topics unrelated to men.
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