Saturday, 7 September 2013

Le démantèlement - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 - King Lear visits the farm (Quebec style)

Le démantèlement (2013) *****
Dir. Sébastien Pilote
Starring: Gabriel Arcand, Sophie Desmarais, Lucie Laurier, Gilles Renaud, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Dominique Leduc

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Who is Sébastien Pilote?

Seriously. Who the hell is this guy, anyway?

These were questions I first asked myself upon seeing his extraordinary first feature film Le Vendeur. This stunning Quebecois kitchen-sink drama was so raw, real and infused with a seldom-paralleled acute pain that the film's quiet power betrayed its creator's cinematic genius. Starring the great Gilberte Sicotte as an ace car salesman in a small factory town in Quebec on the brink of total financial collapse, this staggeringly powerful, exquisitely-acted and beautifully written motion picture was, for me, 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). As if making a modern masterpiece of Quebec cinema as a first feature wasn't enough, I eventually caught up with Pilote's earlier short film DUST BOWL HA! HA! which featured Andre Bouchard as a hard-working family man in small-town Quebec who stoically maintains his dignity in a world where nothing and nobody escapes the crushing weight of the financial crisis. This turned out to be one of the best short films I had ever seen - period - a phenomenal portrait of humanity, so graceful and so simple, that upon first seeing it I felt about as winded as I did after I first saw Le Vendeur.

So now I have even more reason to ask: Who the fuck is Sébastien Pilote? His second feature film Le démantèlemen completely and utterly knocked me on my ass. Starring the legendary Gabriel Arcand as a Quebec sheep farmer extraordinarily blends a neo-realist sensibility with the sort of pace one takes while appreciating a great work of visual art and as such, is not only great, thought-provoking drama but visually astonishing - gorgeously lit and composed by cinematographer Michel La Veaux in a classical tradition not unlike that of Haskell Wexler's heartbreakingly beautiful work in Bound For Glory.

Gaby Gagnon (Arcand) has worked the family farm his whole life - long after his brothers abandoned rural life, long after his wife left him to say farewell to a suffocating existence and now he continues to painstakingly toil away, often missing, but seldom seeing the daughters he loves so dearly and who live far away in Montreal. He has friends - his loyal pal and accountant (Gilles Renaud) who brings good humour, fellowship and counsel into his life (along with an unwanted clunker of a computer), a neighbouring widow (Dominique Leduc) who endows him with warmth and commiseration and, he has a sweet-eyed ten-year-old dog who sticks to his side faithfully. They all offer some solace to Gaby's isolation, but when his accountant pal speaks disapprovingly about how the family seems to have all but abandoned him, Gaby shrugs it all off as being an inevitability. Thanks to Arcand's extraordinary performance we don't really buy his expectations of abandonment and disappointment.

If anything provides Gaby with genuine solace it is the work itself. During the first third of the film, Pilote painstakingly details the drudgery of Gaby's daily chores - almost to the point where one feels like the movie could be a sumptuously photographed documentary about sheep farming in rural Quebec (instilling avid interest in the rearing of mutton to the unlikeliest candidates for such tutelage). I might be insane, but I could have watched Gabriel Arcand tending to this farm in Frederick Wiseman-like breadth and girth for hours. (I reiterate, however, my mental state on such matters.)

It is in this section of the film we get such an acute sense that Gaby's heart and soul is farming - so much so that when we eventually get to the action of the film's title we're devastated in extremis. This is where another aspect of Pilote's brilliant storytelling approach sneaks stealthily upon us - we not only understand why Gaby would never imagine another life, but it seems like there isn't a single shot or story beat employed in which we don't fall in love with the world of the farm either. There's nothing overtly sentimental about this approach - Pilote never tempers his gaze upon the hardships and/or challenges of farm life, but in fact creates a sense of life's infinite give and take. To put too fine of a point on it: climbing Mt. Everest is full of pain, hardship and requires a meticulous attention to every detail, but Good Goddamn (!) it's worth it!

When Gaby gets a visit from his oldest daughter Marie (Lucie Laurier), he gets the bad news that her marriage is over and she needs a $200,000 loan to buy out her debt-ridden husband's share of her home. For both her sake and her kids, he agrees to look into finding the money for her by using his farm as collateral. His youngest daughter Frédérique (an exquisitely radiant Sophie Desmarais), who enjoys a carefree career as a stage actress, actually seems to have more sense than her older sister and points out to Gaby that he's being taken advantage of if he risks the farm.

And like all good fathers, he shrugs and admits he knows this.

Almost as painstaking in its detail as the recreation of farm life is the "dismantlement" and it is here where the elements of tragedy kick into high gear - there are, after all, several allusions in the film to Shakespeare's "King Lear" - and I defy any audience member to not be moved to tears on several occasions throughout this emotionally devastating series of events. There are sequences of almost unbearable pain. A visit to an animal shelter to "take care" of the dog nobody wants, rivals the old man's visit to the dog pound gas chambers in DeSica's Umberto D and a scene where Gaby tours a decrepit low income housing unit is equally fraught with the same grim, stark power generated by the Italian neorealists. The final half of the film is thoroughly heart-wrenching - but most astoundingly, it is here where Pilote demonstrates such world-wise maturity that we come to recognize and accept with both sadness and joy that death yields regeneration.

And what soaring, truthful and deeply moving regeneration the film offers.

Who is Sebastien Pilote?

One of the greatest filmmakers of Quebec and that means something - a lot, actually.

"Le démantèlement" is part of the Toronto International Film Festival's (TIFF 2013) Contemporary World Cinema series. GET A TICKET HERE.