A group of old women stand in a field in the Canadian wilderness. Their arms are in the air, their hips are gyrating. Facing them, their elderly instructor shouts: "I was a belly-dancer in my youth, and I've got the tummy to show it!"
This unlikely scene captures the essence of "Strangers in Good Company," a funny and touching portrait of seven extraordinary women stranded together at an abandoned dilapidated house after their bus breaks down.
Rather than panic, the women pass the time sharing stories of their childhoods, telling jokes and playing cards. They talk about their late husbands, their children, their fears, death.
The film is intimate, allowing the viewer to eavesdrop among the women as they pair off and converse as if they were neighbors talking over a common fence, instead of actresses who've memorized lines for an audience. Photographs of each character, from different stages of her life, appear intermittently over the dialogue throughout the film, as in a documentary. And each cast member uses her real name in the film.
There's Constance, who organized the excursion. She spends a lot of time sitting on the porch feeling responsible for their misfortune, and contemplating death.
But Alice, a Mohawk who's in tune with nature, tells Constance: "I'm not going to die. I'm going fishing!" With the help of Michelle, the bus driver, Alice sets up a net--which she's made from pantyhose and twigs--in the shallow end of the lake. She returns to find that her crazy contraption has captured several fish.
While the women await rescue, they eat wild berries and cook frog legs. They unsuccessfully attempt to send smoke signals. They use stones to form the word \o7 help \f7 in giant letters by the lake.
When they're not trying to get help, they bird-watch and daydream about the first time they fell in love. They compare the colors and purposes of their myriad prescription pills.
By the time they're discovered, the women seem to have found peace within themselves, as well as enriched their lives through a very special kind of friendship.
\o7 "Strangers in Good Company" (1990), directed by Cynthia Scott. 101 minutes. Rated PG.