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Originally published April 15, 2010 at 3:04 PM | Page modified April 15, 2010 at 8:45 PM

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Movie review

'Barking Water': A couple reconnect on their final road trip together

"Barking Water" is a lyrical movie about a Native American couple driving through rural Oklahoma on their final road trip together.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Barking Water,' with Casey Camp-Horinek, Richard Ray Whitman. Written and directed by Sterlin Harjo. 85 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum.

The aging faces of a Native American couple making a final road trip together may be the most prominent aspect of "Barking Water," but they are hardly the most significant.

A dusty Volvo wagon and the unfurling two-lane blacktops of rural Oklahoma get just about equal screen time in this unique road movie that is often touching and heartfelt, yet remains a fundamentally hollow experience.

The faces belong to Irene (Casey Camp-Horinek), who has just sprung Frankie (Richard Ray Whitman) from a hospital bed so that he can spend his final days free from the cancer ward and hopefully in the presence of a long-estranged daughter.

The bits and pieces of whys and wherefores come gradually and enigmatically as Irene and Frankie cross hundreds of miles of eastern Oklahoma, making stops now and again to commune with the landscape, to visit with far-flung family or engage in peculiar encounters with strangers.

From conversations that echo both the ease and familiarity of a long friendship as well as the bitterness and reproach of a soured love affair, we slowly come to understand Irene and Frankie's history.

There are also haphazard bursts of flashbacks, distinguished only by a burnished gold hue. He hurt her a long time ago, but their connection remains so strong that Irene is the only one Frankie can rely on to ease an emotional pain that needs to heal for them both.

Writer/director Sterlin Harjo is clearly giving his all in trying to convey a soulful mysticism in this existential journey. But the tone becomes a little ham-handed with all the lengthy interludes of barren fields, roadside fences and tracking shots of the ever-moving Volvo.

When Irene and Frankie aren't talking in the car, we're nevertheless watching them, often with the melancholy strains of a female singer/songwriter's warble.

The stops they make along the way are mostly random additions to the spiritual journey, whether amusing, meaningful, kooky or mysterious. But it's the faces of these two lonely, fragile people that redeem the monotony of their voyage as Frankie's physical pain worsens and Irene's compassion grows. Their bond comes full circle as they ultimately reach their final destinations.

Ted Fry:

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