"REDEMPTION"; written and directed by Tom Russell, produced by Covenant Communications; running time 105 minutes
OREM — A brutal but engrossing story, "Redemption" is an interesting and "mostly true" story introduced at the 11th Annual LDS Film Festival 2012 on opening night, Jan. 25, at the Scera Center for the Arts.
After it's discovered that Jean Baptiste (played well by David H. Stephens) has been robbing the dead of their burial clothing, he's branded, his ears are cropped and he's sentenced to basically die on Antelope Island without food and surrounded by water that he can't drink.
Henry Heath (played by John Freeman), the town sheriff and the father of a little girl who died of fever, is angry at God and at himself for mistakes he believes cost him his child. His bitter rage is pushing him away from his wife and preventing him from healing from his loss.
Nevertheless, he's pained to see decent people behave so heartlessly toward a fellow being, so he brings Baptiste a little food and water when he can.
Although Baptiste seemingly has no redeemable qualities in the beginning, as the story progresses one cannot help but feel for "the ghoul on the island" as he scrabbles for sustenance.
An odd sort of friendship develops between Heath and Baptiste.
At the same time, townsfolk who feel their dead were desecrated cannot bear that he's "getting away with it" and start to harrass and torment him even further.
Here is a story of loss, indignity, perseverance, compassion and healing.
As Baptiste struggles to survive, Heath learns a lesson in tolerance and is actually taught some things about life after death by this skinny, crazy man.
Margot Kidder plays Baptiste's spooky wife, a woman without sound mind who loves him and tirelessly washes the dead people's clothes he brings home.
She's crazy, but in her own way, she brings some sanity to the film's conclusion.
This film is beautifully shot, which is no small feat given the lack of lush landscape on Antelope Island and on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.
The musical score underlines the action nicely.
The photography is well done and professional.
Only a couple of small criticisms. If Baptiste were really without food and water, he would become more gaunt than he does.
His thick accent makes it tough to understand some critical dialogue, so it's never really clear why and how he ended up with Kidder.
Otherwise, this is an engaging and memorable film that could be destined for success.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.