New Canadians Centre
Arthur News School of Fish
Still from 'North by Current'

ReFrame Review: North by Current

Written by
Katy Catchpole
and
and
February 14, 2022
ReFrame Review: North by Current
Still from 'North by Current'

“Most people think who you are is a compilation of things that happened to you, or a series of choices you made… did you choose the right friends? Did your mother love you good enough? How did you become who you became?” These are the words filmmaker Angelo “Madsen” Minax presents in the opening moments of his film North By Current. These prompts set the stage for what will be a compelling exploration of death and loss, place, family dynamics and identity.

This film is far from definitive or expositional; it approaches its subject matter not in concise or neat explanations, but rather in brief and perhaps unintended or unforeseen interactions and moments. We see glimpses of a mother and father coming to terms with their trans son’s identity–in a conversation about loss, they ask “Do you want to hear about our other kid we lost?”, referring to Madsen prior to his transition. Later, we hear the filmmaker grappling with his parents’ grief over his symbolic ‘death’; “I was shocked, because I worked so hard to be alive.” 

The film does not linger in this emotion for long however; it shifts, constantly moving forward, propelled by the disembodied voice of a young girl (possibly Madsen as a young child or his sister), whose poetic musings on place and time – “when you leave a place, the place goes on living without you”– help to guide us along the film's course. Accompanying phrases like this are shots of the desolate sawmill town where Madsen’s family still lives. Crackled home movie footage of people in outdated garb mingling outside a family restaurant on a street lined with clunky 1960s station wagons creates the sense of a place removed from ordinary time, existing neither then nor now. 

In a moment of self-reflexivity, Madsen reveals that his film is an attempt to “weave different strands of stories.” It’s an apt description of the film, which despite the depiction of several subjects (Minax’s mother and father, his sister, his sister’s husband, their children, and the filmmaker himself), it never focuses wholly on any one subject. Thus, it evades the documentary trap of definitively saying “this is who this person is.” Subjects are allowed to be indefinite and complicated, as parts of them are left out and their individual stories bleed over into one another.

Eventually we are led to the conversation of motherhood, and Minax’s sister’s efforts to deal with the tragic loss of her child, Kalla. Yet even in the exploration of this topic, which is fraught with subjective feelings, complications and allegations, the film does not lead us toward a concrete discovery of what happened, nor of who is to blame. The film is steeped in its own unanswered questions and unfinished impressions, in a way that is cathartic for viewers, and no doubt for the filmmaker himself. The film ends in hope, as we witness the birth of his sister’s child, finalizing the film’s propensity to celebrate life and to move forward regardless of the circumstances. 


New Canadians Centre
Arthur News School of Fish
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New Canadians Centre
Arthur News School of Fish

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