Sunday, 16 December 2012

Modern Quebecois Masterpiece joins Greg Klymkiw's 10 Best List of Blu-Ray/DVD Releases of 2012 - Today's Accolade is Sebastien Pilote's LE VENDEUR (accompanied by Pilote's stunning short drama DUST BOWL HA! HA!)

The Best Blu-Ray and DVD Releases
of 2012 as decreed by Greg Klymkiw

This was a stellar year for Blu-Ray and DVD collectors that it's been difficult to whittle my personal favourites down to a mere 10 releases. So hang on to your hats as I'll be presenting a personal favourite release from 2012 EACH and EVERY single day that will comprise my Top 10. At the end of all the daily postings, I'll combine the whole kit and kaboodle into one mega-post with all titles listed ALPHABETICALLY. My criteria for inclusion is/was thus: 1. The movie (or movies). How much do I love it/them? 2. How much do I love owning this product? 3. How many times will I re-watch it? 4. Is the overall physical packaging to my liking? 5. Do I like the picture and sound? There was one more item I used to assess the material. For me it was the last and LEAST area of consideration - one that probably surprise most, but frankly, has seldom been something I care that much about. For me, unless supplements really knock me on my butt, their inclusion is not that big of a deal. That said, I always go though supplements with a fine tooth comb and beyond any personal pleasure they deliver (or lack thereof), I do consider the educational value of such supplements for those studying film and/or those who might benefit from them in some fashion (film students or not). So, without further ado, here goes.

Greg Klymkiw's 10 Best Blu-Ray & DVD Releases of 2012 (which will be compiled in alphabetical order in one final mega-post). Today's Title (more to follow on subsequent days) is none other than:

Le Vendeur (2011) ***** dir. Sébastien Pilote Review By Greg Klymkiw

This stunning Quebecois kitchen sink drama is so raw and real, the pain evoked so acute, you'll be devastated by its quiet power while at the same time you'll be dazzled with its cinematic genius.

While the thematic concerns and narrative of Le Vendeur are both timeless and universal, and though it is set in a small factory town in Quebec, I was profoundly moved and deeply taken with just how Canadian Sébastien Pilote's astounding film is. This staggeringly powerful, exquisitely-acted and beautifully written motion picture is easily the first genuine Quebecois heir apparent to the beautiful-yet-not-so-beautiful-loser genre of English Canadian cinema of the 60s and 70s (best exemplified by films like Don Shebib's Goin' Down the Road, Peter Pearson's Paperback Hero and Zale Dalen's Skip Tracer).

The title character of Pilote's great film is ace car salesman Marcel Lévesque (Gilbert Sicotte). He lives in a small town on the brink of complete financial collapse - the primary industry has shut down production and locked out its workers and yet, while people are starving, losing everything, moving away and many local businesses close forever, Marcel turns a blind eye to all of this. He's not the undisputed Salesman of the Month in this dealership for nothing - and not just one month, but EVERY month, for years on end. Financial crisis be damned! There are cars on the lot and they need to be moved. And they will be moved. At any cost.

For Marcel, life is selling cars. His late wife has been six feet under for a long time and his only real human connection is to his daughter Maryse (Nathalie Cavezzali), a hairdresser and single mother to Antoine (Jérémy Tessier). If it weren't for them, he'd have even more time to sell cars. He is, however, in spite of this obsession, a devoted, loving and caring father and grandfather. He makes regular visits to his daughter's shop, attends local events with her, watches his grandson play hockey in the local arena whilst gently tut-tutting any suggestion from his only surviving blood relations that perhaps he should retire.

He is a friend to everyone in town, yet in reality, he has no friends. His effusive manner with all he meets is part of his ongoing schtick - he knows damn well that people will buy from someone they like. And he must be liked to be successful.

Success, however, can mean many things to many people and as the film progresses, Marcel tragically discovers what success can really mean and how fleeting it is and how easy it can pass us by.

Le Vendeur is a great film. You owe it to yourself to experience it.

Luckily, it is available on Blu-Ray and I highly advise that it's a title you'll want to own. A first viewing will knock you on your ass. Subsequent viewings will yield even deeper and richer elements.

That said, the Blu-Ray from Seville is a no-frills affair.

At first I was fit to be hogtied and adorned with a huge apple in my mouth that it lacked a commentary track from the director in either French or English. I did, however, need to remind myself that I had an opportunity to listen to Pilote during a Q and A at TIFF and the second some incredibly lovely, intelligent words came out of his mouth, I bolted from the cinema. It had nothing to do with what he was saying (or would have said), but I was so blown to smithereens by his movie that I just wanted to go off somewhere and be alone. At the time I also assumed there would be a commentary track when the film finally made it to Blu-Ray.

Such was not the case. I asked Pilote myself why this extra feature did not exist. He dryly quipped: "I prefer to say nothing, I'm a kind of like Malick!" He explained further that he wanted the movie to speak for itself and most of all: "I seriously wanted to keep all the space on the disk to have the best picture and sound quality for the film." Pilote proudly declared that the unadorned disc allowed for no visible compression - especially in the blacks. He added: "I don't like it when we can feel compression on a blu-ray." Pilote personally supervised the transfer process to make absolutely sure the picture looked perfect. And it does.

The gorgeously lit and composed shots (and not in that annoying Quebecois TV-commercial-slick fashion, but rather blending the poetry of the cinematic image with that of Neorealism), Le Vendeur looks as impeccable at home as it did on the big screen. Though Pilote insists viewers watch the film on Plasma monitors rather than LCD, I've personally seen it on both and while Plasma is clearly superior, straight-up LCD is just fine. (My apologies to Mr. Pilote for having to contradict this.)

There IS, however, one special feature that totally sends this disc into the stratosphere. It includes Pilote's staggering short film DUST BOWL HA! HA! which Pilote suggests is "a kind of introduction for Le Vendeur and is, I think the best extra for the film."

I concur heartily. The 2007, 14-minute drama is, in my humble estimation, quite possibly one of the best short dramas I have ever seen - period. Not one of the best Quebecois short dramas, not one of the best Canadian short dramas, not one of the best short dramas of 2007, but one of the best, ever! Ever, baby, ever!

André Bouchard plays a hard-working family man in small-town Quebec who is facing more than a few uphill challenges. In spite of it all, he stoically maintains his dignity in a world where nothing and nobody escapes the crushing weight of the financial crisis. We follow him during the course of a day, from beginning to end. He's a man with a mission and he'll not rest until it is accomplished. His Buster-Keaton-like expression never cracks. The dirty, dusty, desperate town he lives in would be enough to phase most of us, but he soldiers through. Finally, at a dinner table, surrounded by those he loves most in the world, he must remove his mask. He doesn't want to, but he has no choice. Dignity is maintained, though he visage finally cracks.

I'll say no more than that. The film is gorgeously shot, beautifully acted and the script by Pilote always keeps us engaged in our hero's goal. When the rug is swept out from under us (and the character), it's no trick-pony surprise. It's inevitable - not just for this character, but for the multitudes who must face what he faces, everyday of their lives.

This is such a phenomenal portrait of humanity - so graceful and so simple - that after you watch it, you'll probably need a few moments to recover.

And then, it will be on to the feature attraction.

Le Vendeur is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Seville Films.