The Pedlar: A Wonderful, Wistful Prairie Tale

Films

Every so often I come across a film that I want everyone to know about. I feel this way about The Pedlar, a 1982 NFB production from our Prairie studio that is beautifully shot and beautifully played by the actors. To say that I love this film is to put it mildly. With this blog post, I want to shout the praises of this exquisite film so that everyone will see it.

The film is a one-hour drama based on the W.D. Valgardson short story “A Place of One’s Own.” Its protagonist is a 32-year-old pedlar who travels the country roads of Manitoba, selling his wares to the local population. The pedlar is tired of this nomadic existence and wants to settle down. He stops at a farm he has visited often. The farmer and his wife are very unhappy. Their teenaged daughter is also unhappy. In this unhappy home, the pedlar will try to fulfill his dream of settling down.

I don’t want to say any more about the story, except that it is a tale of unrequited love. A sad story that is both haunting and wonderful.

Lubomir Mykytiuk plays the lonely pedlar. He appears to be carefree, the life of the party, but his eyes reveal so much about the loneliness he endures every single day. Mykytiuk is ably assisted by Thomas Peacocke (The Hounds of Notre Dame) as the angry father and Doreen Brownstone as the sad mother. Newcomer Marilyn Magnusson is simply sublime as the heartbroken daughter waiting for someone we all know is not coming back. Her subtle performance is a treat to watch, and her interaction with the pedlar is beautifully understated.

pedlar INSERT

The other important character in the movie is the Interlake Region of Manitoba (located between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba). The film was shot there, and we get a real sense of the place—from the farms where people are trying to eke out a living to the small towns that are slowly disappearing. It reminds me a lot of some of the small towns I visited in Saskatchewan. If you’ve been to the Prairies, you’ll understand when I say that the film has that magical “Prairie” look and feel.

Director Allan Kroeker (who spent his childhood summers in the Interlake Region) adapted Valgardson’s short story for the screen, changing the time period from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. He did a marvelous job fleshing out each of the characters, too. The father could have been a two-dimensional villain but Kroeker clearly shows that he too is flawed and trapped in the social mores of the time. I must point out that Peacocke’s portrayal really humanizes the character.

All this being said, it is Mykytiuk who steals the show with his nuanced performance. There is a scene in a café between him and Magnusson that is tender and wistful, due in no small part to Mykytiuk’s acting.

The film was shot in August 1981 and had its world premiere at the University of Winnipeg on October 29, 1982—with 1,500 people in attendance! It played in several Prairie cities before being broadcast on the CBC television network in June 1983. Critics and audiences were touched by this film, with the Hamilton Spectator calling it “a genuine piece of Canadiana, beautifully filmed” and the Calgary Sun simply calling it “haunting.”

I invite you to watch this little jewel, recently added to NFB.ca, and be captivated by its beautiful tale of love, hope and heartbreak.

Enjoy the film.

The Pedlar, Allan Kroeker, provided by the National Film Board of Canada