Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:42 am 
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Overprotective dad and a pileup of corpses

In Denis Côté's miserabilist mock-thriller a French Canadian bowling alley handyman develops increasing mental problems while keeping his 15-year-old daughter out of school and away from much contact with the outside world. An opening scene shows she hasn't even had her eyes examined before. With glasses, she wanders out one day and comes upon a pile of frozen corpses. Later her dad hides a corpse himself -- that of a neighbor boy he finds dying by the highway -- in an abandoned motel where he used to work. Emmanuel Bilodeau plays the borderline-autistic dad Jean-Francois, and his real life daughter Philomène plays Jean-François' daughter, Julyvonne. The names may be fun, but the action decidedly isn't in this feature, the director's fourth, which has little to recommend it other than a Beckettian alienation, without the eloquence.

Curling takes place, we're told, in a "rural Quebec town," but we see only desolate settlements. The bowling alley, where Jean-Francois Sauvageau, the man with the mustache and the the Aznavour stare, cleans up; a deserted motel called "Mistral" where he also cleans up, until its owners shut it down; his own house, where he keeps his 15-year-old daughter Julyvonne a virtual prisoner; and thin strips of wind-and-snow swept highway in between. The father-daughter acting collaboration isn't a very fruitful one: the two Bilodeaus have little chemistry or presence; both maintain sad-sack stares. A visit to wife and mother Rosie (Johanne Haberlin) in prison leads to an outburst. Rosie knows Jean-François is keeping the girl isolated and declares with fury that she's "borderline retarded" and that threatens that she'll get revenge for this wrongdoing when she gets out.

Left all day by herself, Julyvonne seems strangely content with sitting outside staring into space. When she finds the group of frozen corpses, she runs from them at first, but then goes back in the daytime to join them now and then. They might represent the evil outside world her father has tried in vain to shield her from, but for her in an odd way for her they represent life, the existence of other people. Côté doesn't really do anything but drop vague hints as to what anything may mean. When Jean-François hides the little boy's corpse, it's apparently because he doesn't want to deal with cops. Since the motel lady also says not to call the cops when he finds puddles of blood on the bed and floor of a room recently vacated by a trucker, Jean-François emerges as only marginally odder or more secretive than the other rural characters in Côté's oddball world.

"Fun" (the Canadian French word for, in fact, fun) is offered by the bowling alley boss, who brings in a bright-haired goth girl to mind the snack bar, and by Jean-François' former motel employers, who take him to a commercial location where people play the Canadian variation of the game of curling -- where big polished granite stones are slid over ice in a competition that combines aspects of bowls, boule and shuffleboard. Jean-François takes his daughter, eventually, to these activities. After he hides the boy's body, he has a mental meltdown, though, and goes off in his car leaving his daughter to her own devices. A brief encounter with a rural call girl seems to soften him up, however, and as the film ends he calls Julyvonne, declaring love and affection, and returns to her again.

In constructing his bleak tale, which is not enlivened by music (save a few CD's played for Julyvonne as rewards for being good) or by any humor, Côté has provided some of the trappings of a murder mystery, namely the group of adult corpses the girl finds -- and for all we know the boy might be victim of the same feud or gang fight. He has also created an emotional crisis in his protagonist. However both of these are red herrings. The emotional crisis is deflated, or turned around. The bodies -- well, the cops are coming, but it's a while till spring thaw time. Côté is intentionally careless in spinning his yarn.

Shown at Locarno in compettion, the film won the Best Director prize there. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films presented March 23-April 4, 2011 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, New York. In French-Canadian dialect. 92min. In 35mm.

ND/NF screening times:
Sat Mar 26: 6:15 pm - MoMA
Sun Mar 27: 3:30 pm - FSLC |

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