The Price of Milk (2000)


New Zealand. 2000.


Director/Screenplay – Harry Sinclair, Producer – Fiona Copeland, Photography – Leon Narbey, Music Conductor – Valery Polyansky, Special Effects – Jason Durey, Production Design – Kirsty Cameron. Production Company – John Swimmer Productions/New Zealand Film Commission


Danielle Cormack (Lucinda), Karl Urban (Rob), Willa O’Neill (Drosophilia), Rangi Motu (Auntie), Michael Lawrence (Bernie)


Lucinda and her boyfriend Rob live a happy life on a rural New Zealand farm with their 117 cows. Rob proposes to Lucinda. Not long afterwards, Lucinda runs down an old lady who leaves her with the cryptic piece of advice “Keep Warm” and Lucinda begins to think everything may not be well in their relationship after all. When their quilt is stolen by the members of a Maori golf club, all sons of the lady that Lucinda ran down, Lucinda trades the most valuable thing they have – all the cows – to get it back. This causes Rob to walk out on her. As the wedding date nears, Lucinda tries to make amends and get the cows back, however Rob has now been seduced away by Lucinda’s best friend Drosophilia.

New Zealander Harry Sinclair first emerged in the late 1980s via The Front Lawn, a satirical stand-up act/rock band. With Front Lawn partner Don McGlashan, Sinclair made three short films that played international festivals. Sinclair then went solo with Topless Women Talk About Their Lives (1997), which was a reasonable international festival hit. (Interestingly, the film was originally begun as a soap opera that uniquely aired on TV New Zealand in five-minute segments). The Price of Milk was Harry Sinclair’s second feature and he subsequently went onto make the equally eccentric Toy Love (2002).

Where Topless Women Talk About Their Lives had a raggedy charm, Sinclair has markedly matured as a director with The Price of Milk. The film is a magical realist fable, not unlike recent films such as Like Water for Chocolate (1992), Simply Irresistible (1999) and Woman on Top (2000), but all filtered through a quaint Kiwi sense of humour. The film is filled with some delightfully eccentric images – of Danielle Cormack and Karl Urban taking a bath in the middle of a field and washing the dishes at the same time; the agoraphobic dog that has to move around with a box over its head; Danielle doing the dishes and succeeding in winding a rubber glove into her hair as she ties it up and, in her attempts to get it out, tying several pots and pans in and pinning herself to the ground; what looks like Danielle and Willa O’Neill smoking a joint in a car before Sinclair turns the camera upside down and reveals they are sitting inside a wrecked car lying upside down; Danielle delivering Karl Urban a glass of beer on the plow of a tractor. Or just the wonderfully tranquil congeniality of the image of Danielle Cormack running up a hillside trailing a thirty foot long train of red cloth behind her.

The Price of Milk is at its best when trading in Harry Sinclair’s whimsical images, less so when it starts developing a plot – some of the characters turns are bizarrely unmotivated, such as Danielle Cormack’s just deciding to trade all the cows in to get the quilt back, with the only motivation offered being the vague one about desiring to provoke an argument with Karl Urban to keep the relationship alive. However, it is the serenely untroubled amiability of the film that makes it. The New Zealand countryside is beautifully photographed by Leon Narbey, himself a former director with the interesting ghost story The Footstep Man (1992).

The Price of Milk did receive a brief release in some US arthouse theatres, but did little business – the very Kiwiness of Harry Sinclair’s sense of humour simply wasn’t understood.

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