Once Upon A River


‘…Once Upon A River fashionably elides some of the drama that might have made for a more intense watch, but it’s still a darkly lyrical piece that commands attention for a fully-realised female lead…’

‘Some come to the river to remember, some come to forget’ is one of the closing lines in this bleak but essentially gentle story of a young Native American girl in Michigan, circa 1977. It looks striking, but also bleak, and isn’t the kind of location I’d be keen to set my time machine for based on this hard-scrabble evidence of brutal backwater life.

Abused by her own family members, Margot Crane (Kenadi DelaCerna) is released through an act of violence that rewards her agency, but a sudden, unwanted pregnancy sends her in the direction of her birth mother, with a few significant pit-stops along the way. Any good men in the story are humbled by incapacity; John Ashton makes a big impact here as Smoke, a man dying with emphysema who is one of the few to take the time to get to know her. It’s always great to see Ashton, obviously an icon after Beverly Hills Cop, but doing great work in a different kind of role here. Otherwise, men steal her boat, try to sleep with her, and cover their tracks by pulling the blanket of the patriarchy firmly over the heads of their friends and family.

Haroula Rose adapts Bonnie Jo Campbell’s book, and this voyage up the river offers some picaresque, episodic encounters, reflected through Margot’s stop-start development. Margot’s story has a monotonous beat at times but that’s because she finds herself knocking against the same doors again and again. Her mother is her goal, but not her destination, and Once Upon A River in general offers a soothing ride that’s punctuated by moments of threat and violence. DelaCerna offers a memorable presence here; her character rarely speaks, but when she does, she has real impact.

Once Upon A River fashionably elides some of the drama that might have made for a more intense watch, but it’s still a darkly lyrical piece that commands attention for a fully-realised female lead. There’s plenty of films about black or transgender rights, but not enough that deal with the raw deal that women get from a male-dominated society, and even if it’s a tough watch at times, Rose’s film offers a useful crash course in exactly what’s wrong.

Thanks to Bulldog Distibution for access, in UK Virtual Cinemas & On Demand 7 May 2021.


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    • I think the book would be worth a spin too. I do want to praise the concept, and the central character. It’s hard to judge how much of the trouble that comes to Marion is because she’s a woman, or because of racial attitudes, but either ways, it’s unacceptable and well worth depicting. Would be keen to hear your thoughts.

  1. Also I notice you haven’t visited my movie review page in which I gave a shout out to you and link to your blog. Don’t botherr moderating this, I’m just sayin’.

      • I’ve shut it down on your instructions. Contact your service provider for more information or refunds.

      • Fraggle I don’t see your movie page because it’s tucked away behind the splash page. Plus I thought you said you were stopping doing it a while back. That’s my excuse.

        The guy running this site has no excuse. He’s just rude. And mean. And angry.

        • Right, Baldy, what’s your problem? Someone score a record high-score on your quiz? 20/25 was it? Suck it, mutant!

          • 20/25? As if. And your guesses are still in moderation. You should have received a note from the AoF admin notifying you of the delay.

            • With Idiocracy, 21/25 I think, can’t see anyone overturning that, time to get the podium and medals out!

              • You can’t possibly be so deluded as to think that all your guesses were right . . .
                But then, you are a fantasist. And a projectionist.

                • And a winner! Hahah! I had my answers recounted in Arizona, and they’re even better than before! QUIZMASTER!

                  • Your bamboo ballots have been disqualified. Your score is sinking, sinking . . .
                    I may expedite the moderation of your posts if you drop off the scones you promised. Plus some shortbread. I like shortbread. Make it quick!

                    • I will not negociate with dribbling baldies like yourself. No scones for you. No shortbread for you. Results vertified by a fair-minded observer in Fraggle. Case closed. Off to solitude and madness for you!

                    • No, it just sounds like “negociate,” that’s not really . . .

                      Oh, why bother. Just hurry up with the scones and the shortbread.

                    • No, buy your own food, Bunty. This is a top film website, not a charity. All the latest and best films reviewed by one of the industry’s top minds. not just some auld baldy jibbering on about Charlie Chan.

                    • *sigh* This is a site run by a raving loon who lives in a wattle-and-daub hovel without garbage collection. I don’t know what you have against bald people, as I am often told that I have a more than passing resemblance to the rakish charm of Patrick Stewart. Perhaps you need to spend more than 99p on getting your eyes checked.

                    • I look like a young Patrick Stewart. And I wouldn’t get too fresh, as Stewart still looks pretty buff for an octogenarian. He’d probably slap you silly if you tried any of that baldy stuff on him.
                      Still waiting on the shortbread by the way. Did you bake it yourself?

          • I don’t fancy finding out given the kind of internet viewing our aged pal in his 80’s does…

              • Technically not a splash page.

                A splash page, if you want to use the web design term, is an introductory page used as an introduction, usually with lots of graphics, between the initial loading of the site and the actual site content.

                I was just using it to mean your main homepage. And I meant it’s not clear from your homepage how to get to your movie review page. It used to be clearly part of your main page index but now it’s on a drop-down menu. In fact I think it’s another site entirely isn’t it? Fraggle’s Other Place?

                    • Are you referring to yourself as Grandpa now? What an old coot! Can’t imagine Bo having any time to mix with the likes of you.

                    • You’re the one falling asleep as you’re typing. Or were you trying to spell something? It’s so hard to tell give your usual level of semi-literate rambling. I think you just had your finger on the z key and drifted off.

                    • Yes, your description of how a splash page work sent me into a deep slumber due to lack of meaningful stimulation. Much like your blog.

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