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U.S.A., 2011; Christopher Munch

Just coming off a bad relationship, forest service hydrologist Sarah Smith (Lily Rabe, an engaging presence ... and voice) heads deep into nature—southwestern Oregon wilderness—for healing. Thankfully, director Christopher Munch (The Hours and Times) doesn't just show us a pretty lady posing in scenic settings. When Sarah works, checking streams in burned-out stretches, she pays real attention to what she's learning. Striding on impressively muscled legs through magnificent landscapes, she projects self-sufficiency, strength, skill. For a long time, we watch her trek these Edenic environs, silent except for natural sound. The light falls richly down streambeds and through ancient trees, and night is blacker, more palpable than anywhere humankind resides. (Cinematographer Rob Sweeney does gorgeous work here.) A dark, towering figure (Bigfoot, played by Isaac C. Singleton Jr and suited up by Lee Romaire) tracks Sarah, watching her as we do, even emulating her lotus pose as she meditates beside a stream. No sense of threat here, just a curious Other, on the order of Chingachgook checking out Deerslayer.

At this point, you wish this pilgrimage would go for the duration of the movie, so magically beautiful and affecting are these places, the passage of time. A silent movie, you think, without jabbering or obligatory plotlines. Maybe Beauty will encounter Beast—a Bigfoot whose hairy visage projects the nobility of, say, Chief Seattle—and they'll become a brand-new Eve and Adam, our second chance at natural innocence. Well, forget that scenario. Letters soon sinks into incredible silliness, comprised of equal parts environmental lectures (logging's bad), government plots (seems Bigfoot cannot only go invisible, but also broadcasts soothing or enraging soundwaves), and mystical mumbo-jumbo, courtesy of an American Indian lady who stares soulfully at her White Buffalo. What began so promisingly—and so mysteriously—loses its way in a ginned-up love connection, phony dialogue, scattergun plotting, and bad acting. And just to make sure you get the Message, there's an amateur-night performance of The Tempest—see, Bigfoot is Caliban, and maybe Sarah's just the Miranda he needs.... Oh, it doesn't bear thinking about. -KAM

Friday, June 10, 6:30 p.m. at SIFF Cinema; Saturday, June 11, 4:30 p.m. at SIFF Cinema

Copyright © 2011 by Kathleen Murphy