Category Archives: Canada

Familia (2005)

The Canadian film Familia from director Louise Archambault appears to begin its focus with divorced, single parent Michèle (Sylvie Moreau). A brief glimpse of Michèle’s gambling addiction and a short encounter with her current steroid-selling boyfriend/boss, Scott (Claude Despins) illustrate a life of failure, irresponsibility and flux. Unfortunately, Michèle’s bad decisions pour down on to her 14-year-old daughter, Marguerite (Mylène St-Saveur). A confrontation between Michèle and her latest boyfriend results in yet another midnight flit with Michèle and Marguerite’s few belongings stuffed into the car, and what doesn’t fit in the car is tied onto the roof.

Time to hit the road… Michèle, a part-time aerobics instructor, would really like to start afresh in California, but she needs money to fund this make-over. Off to mum’s to plead for cash, but Madeleine (Micheline Lanctôt) doesn’t have any to spare and seems fairly oblivious to Michèle’s dilemma. No matter, Madeleine’s much younger husband, (Jacques L’Heureux) lusts after Michèle, and he’s perfectly happy to offer some cash in exchange for a grope.

Michèle doesn’t make it to California and ends up on the doorstep of childhood friend Janine (Macha Grenon), and here’s where the family dynamics begin to get complicated. Janine is the sister of Marguerite’s father who was married to someone else when he impregnated Michèle. The complicated layers of deceit, self-deceit, and irresponsibility peel back as various family members appear on the scene, and the film raise the old nature vs nature question through its portrayals of three-generations of troubled characters.

As the film plays out, its focus shifts to Janine, nicknamed Hitler by her 13-year-old daughter Gabrielle (Juliette Gosselin),  Janine, a successful interior decorator runs a tight ship at her immaculate home and naturally and foreseeably, Michèle’s presence and influence wreaks havoc in Janine’s formerly orderly home. Unfortunately, Janine has too many distractions to see it coming. With her husband Charles (Vincent Graton) largely absent, Janine has good reasons to suspect him of infidelity.

When the multiple crises erupt, the film takes a step back from Michèle’s disastrous choices and Janine’s painful suspicions and takes a look at the larger family picture here. Janine’s mother, Estelle (Patricia Nolin), is a cold fish who believes that all problems can be successfully avoided through shopping while Michèle’s mother desperately tries to stay younger in order to keep her repulsive husband interested. By stepping back and taking a look at this older generation, Michèle and Janine begin to make a lot more sense–and by that I don’t mean that they were inconsistent characters, but rather their backgrounds explain their adult choices. 

And since the film takes a look at the older generation, it’s balanced by taking a look at the choices made by Gabrielle and Marguerite. Once again, these two young girls are very much influenced by their mothers, and in one poignant scene Michèle, who manages to largely ignore her daughter, asks Marguerite what she wants out of life. Marguerite replies that it’s very simple–she wants to not be like her mother. 

On the down side, the film comes dangerously close to condemning the entire male species–with the sole exception of Marguerite’s grandfather who seems the most stable of the bunch. However, that complaint aside, ultimately Familia, a highly entertaining film offers believable flawed characters caught in various economic and social dilemmas for which there are no easy answers, and we see generations of women paying for the mistakes and the irresponsibility of their parents. By the time, the film concludes, we see the characters overcoming patterns of behaviour, and one scene which includes Janine and her ever-disappearing husband has to be one of the best melt-down scenes ever made.

Familia, a Canadian film, is mostly in French, and it’s an entry into Caroline and Richard’s world cinema series 


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La Vie Apres L’Amour (2000)

“Calm down or I’ll Novocaine you.”

La Vie Apres L’Amour is a light-hearted comedy that centers on dentist Gilles Gervais (Michel Cote). The film begins with brief glimpses into his wedding and married life with Sophie (Sylvie Leonard), but the story really begins when Gilles arrives home on the evening of his twentieth wedding anniversary. With a bouquet of roses in hand, he discovers his wife smashing the place up. She claims that she’s driven by boredom, but Gilles soon realizes that there’s another man involved.

Sophie leaves, and Gilles can’t accept the fact that she’s never coming back. Desperate, he seeks help from a therapist who “favors therapy without medication.” But even though Gilles makes some small improvements in his life, for the most part, he can’t move forward, and consequently his life disintegrates and spirals out-of-control.

The film succeeds in some areas but not in others. The film’s strong, intense characterizations are wonderful, and ex-convict Sunsey (Patrick Huard) is particularly delightful. The scenes at Gilles’s dental practice are exquisite, and when Gilles takes out his frustrations on his patients, well you simply have to wince. The scenes at the dental practice are some of the best in the film, and the degeneration of the practice mirrors Gilles’s mental decline. The film is not, however, as funny as it might have been given the scenario. Some of the humor seems forced at times, but then again perhaps it’s just painful to laugh at the constant, sharp decline of another human being. In spite of this, however, the film had its engaging moments. In French with subtitles, La Vie Apres L’Amour is from Canadian director Gabriel Pelletier.

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Emile (2003)

Facing the past

Emile (Ian McKellen) is a retired professor who travels from his home in England to his native Saskatchewan to attend an honorary degree ceremony. He stays at the home of his freshly divorced, estranged niece Nadia (Deborah Kara Unger) and her troubled 10-year-old daughter. When he arrives on Nadia’s doorstep, it’s obvious that they’re complete strangers. Emile has no family–apart from his niece, but there’s an awkwardness between them–a strained atmosphere that is due to more than just their non-relationship.

In a series of flashbacks, Emile’s role in Nadia’s life slowly becomes apparent. Emile was one of three boys, and he seized the opportunity to escape from the family farm, eventually forging a successful academic career in England. But his escape involved an abdication of responsibility and bore serious ramifications. Emile must confront his past during his uncomfortable visit to Nadia–the niece who’s understandably nursed some grudges.

The biggest problem with the film is the manner in which the frequent flashbacks are conducted. These occur in the form of Emile reminiscing about his past. The screen includes Emile in the foreground with one or both of the brothers in the background. Sometimes Emile is an observer to events that he says he was unaware of, and sometimes he actually holds conversations with his favourite brother. This technique would work well for a stage production (I’ve seen it done), but for the film, it fails abysmally.

There’s also a terrible problem with Emile’s accent. McKellen is British–not Canadian, and the scene between Emile and his obnoxious great-niece in which he explains his accent doesn’t make sense. The scene feels that it was written in to justify this highly noticeable discrepancy.

The very best scenes take place between Emile and Nadia, and their acting is superb. They are total strangers, but have a bond dictated by society that they both recognize. Emile is a guest in Nadia’s house, and proximity and politeness forces an intimacy between these two. Nadia struggles against this by acting like a waitress. These scenes raise the spectre of how we all try to maintain relationships with relatives with whom we have little in common. Emile is written and directed by Carl Bessai.

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Outrageous! (1977)

“You’ll never be normal, but you’re special.”

Outrageous! is a cult film that centres on the peculiar relationship between a Canadian drag queen, Robin Turner (Craig Russell) and Liza Connors (Hollis McLaren), a schizophrenic girl who releases herself from a mental hospital. Robin longs to take his drag act onto the stage but lacks the confidence. Liza has spent the last 8 years of her life locked up in a mental institution, and she now carries a little bag of pills that she’s supposed to take around the clock. Robin and Liza need each other, and this can be explained by their total acceptance of one another. They both need to take chances in life, but as Robin says, people treat “life as though it’s a can of Coke, and they’re afraid to drink it too fast.”

The plot isn’t the strong point of this film, but Craig Russell, actor and female impersonator displays amazing talent. He transforms into Mae West, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler and Ethel Merman. Mainly the film resonates with a sweet quaintness of the by-gone 70s days. Nightclub audiences are packed with Village People clones, and check out those 70s platform shoes.

The film quality is not good, and there are many scenes in which the dialogue is completely out of sync with the actors. Still, if you’re willing to overlook these problems, Outrageous! is worth watching for its great one-liners alone.

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Mile Zero (2001)

“Is this how you love your family?”

The Canadian film, Mile Zero is the story of divorced dad Derek (Michael Riley) who tries to make a new life for himself. Unfortunately, Derek can’t seem to make the necessary adjustments to life without his son Will (Connor Widdows) and wife Allison (Sabrina Grdevich). Derek spends his evenings watching and re-watching precious home videos of his family life before the divorce. He’s locked in grief for a past life, and while it’s perfectly understandable, Derek’s life takes an unhealthy turn.

Derek gives his young son a stereo and insists that it is placed in the bedroom. The stereo is actually capable of zooming video images from Will’s room to Derek’s lonely apartment. Ostensibly, this allows Derek to see his son 24/7, and also provides the absent father with a sense that he is still able to watch over his son. Unfortunately, when another man enters his ex-wife’s life, Derek begins to suspect that Will is being molested. Derek kidnaps Will and heads North.

Mile Zero covers some old familiar territory here–the divorced dad, the fractured family, the fight for visitation etc. Mile Zero, however, also looks at some of these scenes in new, sympathetic ways, so we don’t just see a demented father. The film makes excellent use of flashbacks to accentuate several points–Derek’s arrival in his new, bare apartment, a moment when his wife tells him she no longer loves him, and Will’s birth. These flashbacks show that Derek is grieving for a life he lost, and so he isn’t portrayed as a complete ogre. The film plays with the idea that Derek’s motives may not be quite so pure when he crosses the line with the video recording device. Is the video recorder really to give Derek an added sense of being with his son, or is this just his method of intruding into his ex-wife’s life, and trying to spy on events? Derek seems like a fairly sympathetic character, but there’s something about his agitation and scruffiness that doesn’t bode well. As the film continues, Derek’s many problems become glaringly apparent.

Mile Zero has a moody restlessness that admirably matches the storyline. Unfortunately, the film rehashes too much old, familiar territory to really grab one’s attention, and great cinematography, accompanied by a tight, focused plot still fail to produce anything more than an average film.

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