Sunday 16 September 2018

THE FIREFLIES ARE GONE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Sébastien Pilote Scores Again

The Fireflies are Gone (2018)
Dir. Sébastien Pilote
Starring: Kapelle Tremblay, Pierre-Luc Brillant

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Who is Sébastien Pilote? Seriously, who in the hell is this guy, anyway? These were the questions I asked myself upon seeing Quebec-based Canadian filmmaker Sébastien Pilote's extraordinary first feature film Le Vendeur. This stunning Québec-made 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 immediately.
Starring the magnificent Gilberte Sicotte as an ace car salesman in a small factory town in Québec on the brink of total financial collapse, this staggeringly powerful, exquisitely-acted and beautifully written motion picture was, for me, the first genuine Québec 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 Québec cinema as a first feature wasn't enough, he’d knocked one out of the park before that with his early short film DUST BOWL HA! HA!  It featured Andre Bouchard as a hard-working family man in small-town Québec 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 drama, so graceful and so simple, that upon seeing it I felt about as winded as I did after I first saw Le Vendeur.
With his second feature Le démantèlement, I had MORE reason to ask, just who in the hell is this guy anyway?
Starring the legendary Gabriel Arcand as a Québec sheep farmer forced into selling off his beloved home and livelihood to help his daughter was a movie that extraordinarily blended a neo-realist sensibility in a great, thought-provoking drama that was visually astonishing – gorgeously captured by cinematographer Michel La Veaux in a classical tradition not unlike that of the late Haskell Wexler's heartbreakingly beautiful work in Bound For Glory.
And then, his third feature film, The Fireflies Are Gone came along. Wow! He’s the real thing! No doubt about it.
Amusingly, when Mr. Pilote invited me to the Canadian premiere of his film, he expressed considerable trepidation. He was worried I wouldn’t like his third feature because it was such a departure from his previous work. His concerns were unfounded. I loved it so much that I saw it twice at TIFF.
I urge everyone to see it.
First of all, it bears many hallmarks of what makes Pilote’s films special: it’s set in small town Québec, it blends neo-realist qualities with classical filmmaking and is finally infused with moments of humanity that are so indelible that it leaves one deeply moved. Where it departs is that the central character is female and that the movie displays considerable charm and humour.
The characters in Pilote’s previous features were nearing the end of their “productive” lives, but not so here. Léonie (Karelle Tremblay) can hardly wait for high school to end and actually begin her life as an adult. Existence in this small Saguenay town is stifling, but she finds solace in her friendship with the much older Steve (Pierre Luc-Brilliant), a guitar teacher who lives in a suburban basement with his mother.
The two of them while away their time playing music together, wandering the empty streets and hanging out eating poutine in a local greasy spoon, but alas, Léonie is restless. She’s also not getting along with her Mom (and Mom’s new-ish husband) and though she enjoys visiting with her estranged Dad, he too does little to fill the void in her life.
Much is made of how the fireflies in the town have disappeared due to the factories belching out pollution, but it’s not just industrialization that has decimated this once beautiful rural paradise, but small mindedness. Léonie, like those fireflies might have to leave, but if she does, will her light ever be replaced?
It’s an eternal question and one that Pilote posits brilliantly in his gorgeous, magical movie. 


The Fireflies are Gone is a Contemporary World Cinema presentation at TIFF 2018.