Strangers in Good Company (aka The Company of Strangers (1990): Cynthia Scott’s Tale of Diverse Women, Stranded Together (LGBTQ, Lesbian)

Canadian Cynthia Scott directed Strangers in Good Company (originally titled “The Company of Strangers”), which she co-wrote with Sally Bochner, David Wilson and Gloria Demers.

Grade: B (***1/2 out of *****)

The Company of Strangers
Strangers in Good Company dvd cover.jpg

 

The film depicts eight women on a bus tour, stranded at an isolated cottage when the bus breaks down.

The group of women could not have been more diverse in terms of age, race, nationality. formal education, marital status, family structure, and sexual orientation.

Each of them is using her real name or nickname. Most are outsiders in one way or another, one is lesbian.  And while most are elderly, senior citizens in their 70s, they are contrasted with the tour’s guide, a young jazz singer.

Alice Diabo plays Alice, 74, a Mohawk elder from Kahnawake, Quebec.

Constance Garneau, Constance, is the oldest, 88, U.S.-born and brought to Quebec by her family as a child,

Winifred Holden, Winnie, 76, an Englishwoman who moved to Montreal after WWI.

Cissy Meddings, Cissy, 76, was born in England and moved to Canada in 1981,

Mary Meigs, Mary, 74, a noted feminist writer and painter and out lesbian, and shares the experience of living a secretive life, due to the restrictions and taboos of women of her generation who deviated from the norms of being married to men and having children and grandchildren.

Catherine Roche, Catherine, 68, a Roman Catholic nun, who believes she is “married to God.,

Michelle Sweeney, Michelle, 27, a jazz singer and the trip’s tour guide,
Beth Webber, Beth, 80, who was born in England and moved to Montreal in 1930.

They are united by their concern with the issues of progressive age, declining health and inevitable mortality.

At various points throughout the tale, the director inserts a montage of photos from each woman’s life, past and present.

The semi-documentarian film benefits from its loose narrative structure–there is a general outline, but not a conventional plot–and the freedom to improvise their dialogue.

Far from being static or verbose, the film is largely set outdoors.  The director is careful in dividing the femmes into subgroups of couples, trios, and quartet, often placing them against the dropout of nature at its calmest and most beautiful.

Nothing is forced: The movie just flows naturally, like a quiet yet vibrant river, which may explain the recurrent visual motif of the lake and its still water.

When I showed The Company of Strangers in an ASU class on “Women in Film,” a female student raised the question of whether the film would have looked differently if a female cinematographer and editor were crew members (rather than the men who filled in those jobs back in 1990).

Credits:

Directed by Cynthia Scott
Produced by David Wilson
Written by Gloria Demers
Music by Marie Bernard
Cinematography David De Volpi
Edited by David Wilson

Production company: National Film Board of Canada

Distributed by First Run Features
Castle Hill Productions
National Film Board of Canada

Release date: 1990

Running time: 101 min.

Critical Status:

The film won the Best Canadian film award at the Vancouver Film Festival.

At the 1991 Genie Awards (Canadian Oscars), Diabo and Meddings were nominated for Best Actress, Holden and Roche for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, and won the Best Editing kudo.

In 1991, Mary Meigs wrote a book about the making of the film, “In the Company of Strangers.”

Availability:

The DVD was released on December 7, 1999 by First Run Features as “Strangers in Good Company.”

French title:

Le Fabuleux gang des sept

Note:

TCM showed this rarely-seen Canadian indie on September 16, 2020, as part of their series, “Women Make Film.”

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