The Price Of Milk

on February 14, 2001 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
   Part fantasy, part fable and all New Zealand quirkiness, "The Price of Milk" enchants with its eccentric, wandering chronicle of a young couple's romantic struggles and the inexplicable magic and mysticism that enfolds them. Despite a puckish sensibility, however, the film occasionally stumbles on its charms, jumbling its fairytale outlook with confusing realism.

   In a country of lush green hills, dairy farmer Rob ("Lord of the Rings'" Karl Urban) loves his cows, his bubbly girlfriend Lucinda (Danielle Cormack of TV's "Xena") and his agoraphobic dog Nigel, who wanders around the farm within the secure confines of a cardboard box. Swept away by his ardor for Lucinda, Rob proposes, which sends Lucinda into a paroxysm of worry that their relationship must be going flat. Determined to discover who has stolen the couple's quilt (and their "security"), Lucinda is drawn into the strange goings-on of an old Maori woman and her numerous sons, who are enthused with Rob's cows. In a bid to retrieve the quilt, Lucinda barters away the thing she unknowingly values most--and Rob awakens to find his world gone awry as his precious cows have gone missing. The couple's only way back to each other then lies on a road twisting and turning with uncertain mystical possibilities.

   "The Price of Milk" benefits and suffers from its off-the-cuff production (with no formal script until each day of shooting), sometimes meandering in a refreshing way over the lush Kiwi hills, only to disintegrate too willingly into foolish, pointless absurdity. Sinclair (whose earlier "Topless Women Talk About Their Lives" nearly swept the New Zealand Film and Television awards) can't seem to decide whether he is fashioning a cultural legend, a cautionary fable or a lesson in the ridiculous. The sprinkling of Maori myths (whether a real or made-up part of Kiwi culture is unclear) is likewise compelling and frustrating, skirting the story's edges rather than truly being a part of Ron and Lucinda's evolution, leaving the film a maddening blend of the sweet and the silly.    Starring Danielle Cormack and Karl Urban. Directed and written by Harry Sinclair. Produced by Fiona Copland. A Lot 47 release. Romance/Fantasy. Rated PG-13 for drug use and some sexual content. Running time: 93 min.

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