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HEARTLAND

From the Feb. 21, 1981, Deseret News

HEARTLAND — Conchata Ferrell, Rip Torn, Lilia Skala, Barry Primus; rated PG (mild profanity).

"Heartland" is simply gorgeous.

This small, independent film, which shared first prize at last month's United States Film & Video Festival in Park City, is the kind of picture people refer to when they say, "They just don't make ‘em like that anymore."

They do make ‘em like that occasionally but not very often — and hardly ever in Hollywood.

Anyway, "Heartland" offers us a very strong narrative, vivid characters we come to care very much about, cinematography that is nothing short of breathtaking and a sense of reality that is unpatronizing in its freshness and moving in its familiarity.

The story centers on a widow (Conchata Ferrell) who, with her young daughter (Megan Folsom), travels from Denver to Wyoming, circa 1910, to take the position of housekeeper at the ranch of a taciturn Scotsman (Rip Torn).

Based on the actual diaries of Elinore Randall Stewart, Beth Ferris' intelligent script tells the story entirely from the widow's point of view, detailing the hardships of frontier life in a thoroughly involving manner.

Eventually the couple marries, but it's hardly a match made in heaven. That's OK, though, because "Heartland" is so full of heart that you'll be carried away to its conclusion and wonder what happened to the characters after the picture's over.

Conchata Ferrell is a thoroughly disciplined actress and she brings all the correct emotions to her character, and though Rip Torn's Scotsman is an externally hard man, by the end of the film we have grown toward him and care as much about him as we do Ferrell. The amazing aspect of this bit of acting force is that Torn's character remains unchanged — but the audience has come to understand him for what he is. His is an amazing performance.

Director Richard Pearce has managed to make the harshness of the scenario a contrast to the warmth of the people involved and that, along with Fred Murphy's photography of Wyoming's many seasons (as portrayed by Montana landscapes), blend to create a movie that is as beautiful as any I've seen.

One of the things I liked best about "Heartland" is something that didn't even occur to me until some time after I had seen it. Young Beth Folsom as the widow's daughter Jerrine has none of the manufactured cutesy charm that is so prevalent among child actors these days. She is so real and endearing in her own right, that it wasn't until I had thought about the film for a while that I even recognized it. That kind of subtlety is really rare among children in pictures these days.

"Heartland" is about love and life, death and birth and rebirth, about struggles and losses, and the will to not only survive but to achieve against all odds.

It's a movie that you'll remember fondly, and when it pops up at a theater sometime in the future, or shows up on TV, you'll want to see it again.

But don't wait for that. Go see "Heartland" today. After all, how often in this day of $40 million movies, can you see a movie made for $600,000 (on a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities) that puts most Hollywood products to shame?