Dreamlike Lyricism Flows from an Inspired `Milk'

Article excerpt

Exclusively at Visions Cinema on Florida Avenue near Connecticut, "The Price of Milk" is very much worth discovering. An often inspired and beguiling blend of romantic comedy and fanciful, lyrical stylization, it suggests the spirit of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" transposed to an improbably enchanted contemporary setting: a dairy farm in New Zealand.

The movie begins with images of a rustling, oddly animated quilt, which discloses the titles sewn across various patches and then the presence of the principal characters underneath: a devoted young couple named Rob and Lucinda (Karl Urban and Danielle Cormack).

Soon to be married, they share a somewhat ramshackle but cozy prefab while tending a few hundred dairy cows, serenely envisioned in pastures and sheds and perhaps more endearing at the moment because of the holocaust confronting so many herds in Europe.

The bucolic contentment of Rob and Lucinda, envisioned as right for each other and right for the locale, slips away as capriciously as their quilt seems to move of its own volition.

Indeed, the quilt literally vanishes in a way that exacerbates difficulties for a bewitched Lucinda, who somehow leaves herself vulnerable to apprehensions that take on a life of their own.

Troubles first materialize when she seems to hit a pedestrian, a sudden and unmoving apparition on a country road. Incredibly, the apparition, an elderly Maori woman in a furry red pillbox hat, picks herself up and disappears into the foliage, leaving a cryptic benediction, "Keep warm."

There is a local legend that borrower-type critters, called The Jacksons, tend to make off with things. Lucinda's missing quilt turns up in the possession of her highway lady, who likes to pile on scores of quilts to keep her own bones warmed.

She's also fondly protected by a batch of "nephews," always more good-natured than menacing, but disconcerting even as friendly blokes.

Witchcraft is obviously part of the mystery woman's resume. Lucinda's desire to retrieve the quilt prompts consecutive bad bargains: a swap for the herd, leaving Rob so traumatized that he loses his voice; and then a swap for the lost herd and Rob's love.

The second desperate move leaves the heroine vulnerable to a conniving girlfriend called Drosophila (Willa O'Neill), who has an incredible knack for landing upside down in motor vehicles.

Writer-director Harry Sinclair isn't quite as adept at breaking the spell as he is at imposing it in the first place, but one makes allowances for certain missed bets and dangling threads in this context, which is always reinforced by lovely pictorial flourishes and some witty hallucinatory brainstorms. …