Wednesday, November 19, 1997

Drowning In Dreams

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 1997 at 12:00 AM

Sisyphus never managed to roll his stone to the top of the hill. Frank Broennle has never lifted his yacht from the bottom of Lake Superior, near Rossport, Ontario. Actually, the Gunilda belonged to someone else, an American tycoon who was too busy mixing martinis on the fantail one summer afternoon in 1911 to notice the shoals ahead. After a failed attempt to tow the boat, the owners cut their losses and headed back to Boston to buy a bigger boat, leaving the Gunilda to disappear into the drink.

But not from the imagination of the locals, in particular Broennle and his friend King Hague. The two ran a highly successful diving salvage company, work that took them into the very waters where the legend, filled with alleged bounty, lay. And so, one fateful weekend in 1970 they went down looking for the Gunilda. They found her, the gold paint of her bow a sparkling siren that so enraptured Hague his tanks went dry before he could surface.

Director Tim Southam provides a masterful chronicle of Broennle's obsession to salvage the Gunilda. In a very assured, impressionistic style, Southam articulates Broennle's greed, his deep sense of obligation to his dead friend and that universal dream of finding sunken treasure. Even the water comes alive as a character, a silent, deadly Greek chorus mocking the egoists and dreamers who would rob her of her prize.

There is something darkly quixotic about Broennle, gruff and charismatic, that resonates beyond his individual idiosyncrasies into those of Canadian identity. It wasn't enough that he had a successful business and creature comforts. Broennle had to have what the American had. Even if that meant losing everything in the process.

And lose it he does. The wives, the cars, the houses and a son resentful of his daddy's obsession. Yet one feels no pity for Broennle. Pathetic he may be, but his inner demons seem more a drive train of fortitude than a destructive force. The search, as in all of life, is often more enticing than the find. Even when we don't really know what we're looking for. Fascinating stuff.

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