Sorting out what love is

Fantasy offers art on training wheels

Published: Apr 03 2017, 01:01:am

Sunday, April 18, 1993.
THE GROCER’S WIFE. Music by Mark Korven. Written and directed by John Pozer. Running time: 100 minutes. Mature entertainment with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: “occasional very coarse language, nudity and suggestive scenes.”

THE GROCER’S WIFE (NICOLA Cavendish) may not know art, but she knows what she likes.
    “You’ve had your hair cut,” she gushes approvingly at shy mill worker Tim Midley (Simon Webb). “Very nice!
    Midley’s mom Mildred (Andrea Rankin) is less keen on her adult offspring’s new look. “You shameful boy!” she says, eyes wide with disgust. “Shame!
    The next day, a third woman enters Midley’s hitherto uneventful life, one who is completely indifferent to the state of his head.
    “I used to be famous,” self-absorbed striptease dancer Anita Newlove (Susinn McFarlen) tells Tim. “Did you know that?”
    The Grocer's Wife may not be art, but it’s what film festival audiences seem to like. B.C.-born director John Pozer’s low-budget first feature played the Toronto and Vancouver events in 1991 and Cannes in 1992, and was well received each time.
    Culture mavens, noting that his black-and-white comedy is set in a run-down industrial town — played by Trail, B.C. — that's dominated by an iron-ore smelter, have compared it to David Lynch’s first feature, the aggressively weird Eraserhead (1977). Very nice.
    Pozer, to his credit, acknowledges the influence of other fest-approved filmmakers who made their feature debuts in B&W, among them Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise; 1984) and Spike Lee (She’s Gotta Have It; 1986).
    Fest audiences live to make a lot out of a little. They read into this fantasy of a shy guy dominated by his mom, pursued by the married grocer’s wife and oppressed by a parasitic stripper a deliciously opaque “existential love story.”
    Regular moviegoers may be less excited by Pozer’s introductory effort. Though less feverish than Lynch, he’s more imaginative than Jarmusch, and not as jittery as Lee.
    “This film was designed for me as a beginning director,” Pozer has said. “In film you’ve got to crawl before you walk. The Grocer’s Wife is a crawler.”
    Agreed. Call it art on training wheels

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1993. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: The Grocer’s Wife will be screened tonight (April 3) at Vancouver’s Pacific Cinémathèque. The 1991 feature, together with director Mark Sawers’s 1993 comedy short Stroke, is the 12th program in the third season of The Image Before Us: A History of Film in British Columbia. Curated by Harry Killis, the Assistant Dean of Dynamic Media at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, the series is a celebration of our regional cinema that turns the spotlight on its creators and their contributions. He notes that University of B.C. film student John Pozer’s “audacious no-budget film . . .  launched the West Coast Wave of the 1990s; its crew included a notable number of fellow students who would become feature filmmakers themselves, including Mina Shum, Bruce Sweeney, Lynne Stopkewich, and Ross Weber.”
    Shum, who made her directorial debut in 1994 with Double Happiness, handled the casting for Pozer and was his second unit director. Stopkewich, Pozer’s associate producer and production designer, made her directorial debut in 1996 with Kissed. Sweeney (Live Bait; 1995) and Weber (No More Monkeys Jumpin’ on the Bed; 2000) were Pozer’s sound team. When The Grocer’s Wife finally arrived in Vancouver for its commercial premiere, Pozer was already the winner of the 1991 Toronto International Film Festival’s Special Jury Citation for best Canadian feature film. In December, he received the first Claude Jutra Award (since renamed the Canadian Screen Award) for Best First Feature at the 1993 Genie ceremonies. Nicola Cavendish took home the Genie for best supporting actress. Scheduled to be on hand for the Q&A following tonight’s screening are director Pozer and cast members Cavendish, Susinn McFarlen, Jay Brazeau and Simon Webb.