A Celtic slave's adventures in a foreign land are charted in KILIAN'S CHRONICLE, a beautifully shot but dramatically uneven independent feature film.
Set 500 years before Columbus journeyed to America, KILIAN'S CHRONICLE tells the story of Kilian (Christopher Johnson), an indentured slave to a group of Vikings who are sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to conquer new territory. The Irish-born Kilian, who details his adventures in a journal,
chafes under the demands of his master, Ivar (Robert McDonough), a particularly cruel warrior. Once the boat reaches the coast, Kilian escapes from his captors and tries to survive on his own in the wilds. Ivar instigates the massacre of a group of Native Americans and his men flee home, fearing
reprisals, leaving him behind as punishment. Later, when Kilian is bitten by a snake, the Native Americans rescue him, welcome him into their society and attempt to learn his language. In turn, Kilian learns the tribe's language and helps them with his carpentry know-how, eventually falling in
love with Turtle (Eva Kim). Meanwhile, Ivar joins another Viking tribe living on the coast, but never stops thinking about seeking vengeance on Kilian for escaping. When Kilian's tribe plans to trade goods with these nearby Vikings, Ivar ruins the negotiations by killing an Indian, and an all-out
war ensues. After the fighting subsides, Kilian decides to return to Ireland, leaving Turtle and her younger brother, Contacook (Gino Montesinos), behind. The night before Kilian is to leave, however, Ivar catches up with him and holds him captive, demanding that he become his slave again. Kilian
escapes from Ivar, only to find Ivar holding Contacook hostage on the boat sailing home. Kilian seems ready to return to slavery as long as Ivar frees Contacook, but Kilian tricks Ivar and the two men fight. With Contacook's help, Kilian kills Ivar, and then decides to return to Turtle with her
Less condescending but just as painfully earnest as DANCES WITH WOLVES, the low-budget KILIAN'S CHRONICLE shows Native Americans in a better light than most Hollywood films. It also makes a concerted effort to accurately portray this fascinating and rarely dramatized period. (Writer-director
Pamela Berger is a former Boston College professor whose screenplay was informed by up-to-date academic and archeological research.) But though it's rarely didactic, it is slow-moving and dramatically uneven. Berger's emphasis on cultural differences (the Indians' orderly, quasi-socialist utopia
vs. the Vikings' savage anarchy) comes at the expense of dramatic structure. Ivar, for example, disappears from the narrative for so long after the opening reel that his quest to find Kilian is virtually forgotten; he is almost unrecognizable when he reappears much later in the film. Berger also
entirely skips over how Kilian and natives learn each other's languages (Kilian's narration covers what's missing, but it seems like an afterthought). The modern-sounding English dialect that the natives speak so fluently is anachronistic, as is the soft-rock guitar piece played during two
separate chase sequences.
Still, if nothing else, KILIAN'S CHRONICLE succeeds visually. Especially considering the film's low budget, the camerawork (by John Hoover) is artful without being arty. Many scenes are visually striking, from the spare opening images of the Vikings' ship against the seascape to the solemn but
beautiful Indian burial in the autumnal woods. Berger and production designer John Demeo also effectively transform contemporary settings in Massachusetts and Connecticut into their mid-15th century counterparts. In this way, KILIAN'S CHRONICLE contains more novelty than THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST
KING, another 1995 film about a runaway slave.
KILIAN'S CHRONICLE may work better as an educational tool than a stirring drama, but as the former, at least it provides strong visual interest. (Violence, adult situations.)
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