When Roger Ebert reviewed Christmas in the Clouds on Roeper and Ebert now nearly a decade ago, he remarked at how refreshing it was to see an "Indian movie" that wasn't "political." Well, I haven’t seen enough films made by American Indians to know whether that's a trend or not. (And I suspect many of the films Ebert was thinking of were in fact made by White people.) But I do know that I've certainly found those I've seen recently to be refreshing.
Christmas in the Clouds wouldn't top that list, but it is certainly enjoyable. It's one of those frustrating films in which the plot (and the bulk of the comedy) turns on characters who don't communicate well... so identities become confused and nobody turns out to be who other characters thought them to be. Some of that is deftly handled—such as our introduction to Tina Littlehawk, a widow who travels from upstate New York to some unspecified resort to do a little reconnaissance on the Indian gentlemen who's been her penpal for some time.
Ray Clouds on Fire is the divorced local legend who couldn't make a go of things in the wider world and has since returned to manage the local ski resort. He's caught wind that a reviewer from a prestigious hotel guide is coming for a visit... and all he knows is that the reviewer is using an assumed name. You see where this is headed.
Just Talk to Each Other!
Other than the fact that I kept wanting to scream, "Why can't you people just talk to each other?!?!?" I found myself smiling almost all the way through the film. I'm fairly certain that first- (and only-) time feature film director Kate Montgomery modeled her film on the gentle Scottish comedy Local Hero (one of the supporting female characters seems almost lifted directly from Bill Forsythe's film), and it’s a good move. And Montgomery’s story ups the comedic ante by having not just one but two fish out of their elements—both Tina and hotel critic Stu O'Malley, nicely played by M. Emmet Walsh in what must have been one of his final performances.
Graham Greene and Wes Studi also show up in mostly throwaway roles; the latter is particularly odd, as Studi appears, as himself, as a guest officiant at a Bingo raffle. Yup. And I won't spoil the weirdness of that scene by saying more. Sam Vlahos makes an appealing narrator as Ray's odd duck dad Joe.
Why Quit the Business?
Anchoring the cast is Timothy Vahle as Ray. When reviewing DVD releases for films made many years before, I sometimes find myself taken aback by what I find while doing background research in preparation for my review. As with Do You Wanna Dance?, I was stunned to learn that the leads in this film have essentially vanished since completing this project. Mariana Tosca, who plays Tina, has gone on to produce a documentary about horses, while director Kate Montgomery has apparently returned to her industrial film roots.
What could possibly be so bad about making an award-winning indie film? What makes people want to quit the business? Without answering those questions directly—do I really need to?—I'll just ask another: Was it, perhaps, that this just ended up feeling like a dream project, a stroke of lightning unlikely to repeat itself?
Whatever her own reason for not going back to the well, Montgomery, at least, clearly brought all her technical and creative skills together in this very small, gentle, writing/directing/producing tour de force. I'm very glad to have run across it on DVD... though its connection to Christmas, I must say, is very very slight.
Christmas in the Clouds is rated PG for mild sexual content and some language. The sexual content is certainly mild enough... but I'm not certain I'd want my kids witnessing the consensual but nonetheless very thoughtless sexual behavior of Ray and Tina.
Courtesy of the distributor, Greg screened a promotional DVD of Christmas in the Clouds.