Such a lyrical, moving independent film is a rare thing to find; “Songcatcher” is gorgeously made, perfectly cast and thoroughly engaging.
Dr Lily Penleric (McTeer) is a music professor around the turn of the century, disillusioned by the old boy’s club that prevents her from advancing in her profession. So she escapes to the tiny North Carolina mountain village of Clover to visit her schoolteacher sister (Adams). There she discovers that the locals have passed down old English folk tunes from generation to generation for hundreds of years–songs that have been lost in Britain for centuries. So she sets out to collect them, along the way becoming a part of the community she sees as so alien at first.
Music infuses the film just as it does the lives of the remote mountain dwellers–it’s stunningly beautiful, sung with passion and meaning as the film examines the culture clashes between its various characters. Yes, there’s a bit of that noble savages stuff going on here, but it’s much more complex than that, and McTeer holds it together with a meaningful, restrained performance that opens our hearts to the locals along with hers. There are some rather jarring subplots here and there (a bigamist, a lesbian romance, a local who learns greed when educated with the “outlanders”), but all combines to tell a fascinating story and to illustrate various aspects of prejudice and compassion, the film’s main themes … which come, naturally, straight from the ancient music itself.