Parting shots

Before putting this TIFF blog to bed, I should mention that I caught up with to two prize-winning features that I’d missed during the festival: Lost Song, which won best Canadian feature, and Slumdog Millionaire, which won the People’s Choice award.

Lost Song, which I watched on DVD last night, certainly wouldn’t be my choice for best Canadian feature. This story of a woman’s quiet descent into postpartum depression at a summer cottage in Quebec is, as the jury said in its citation, “a perfect marriage of character and landscape.” And as a mediation on dappled lake light and addled psychology, it’s beautifully composed, both austere and lyrical. However, I found it slow, morally schematic and dramatically slack. Suzie LeBlanc, an accomplished soprano, plays the lead role as a singer who has interrupted her career to have a child. But she’s surrounded by ciphers. As her character spirals into her a world of private torment, she is beset by an insensitive husband and an imperious mother-in-law—as if postpartum depression needs one-dimensional villains to establish its credentials.

The baby gets an extraordinary amount of screen time—I’m always impressed when a filmmaker decides to give an uncontrollable actor a supporting role. But in this half-submerged narrative, character and story takes a back seat to obtuse symbolism: director Rodrigue Jean shoots much of LeBlanc’s performance from the back of her head, as if we’re watching her unconsciously walk away from her life.

Oddly enough, the film many of us expected win the prize for best Canadian feature was another movie from Quebec about a distressed family with an incapable mother—Phillipe Falardeau’s C’est pas moi, je le jure, although in this case the mother is absent for most of the film, having deserted her suburban home to “find herself” in the Greek islands. Given the choice between these two dark family dramas from Quebec, I’d have chosen Farardeau’s. It has a stronger story, more richly developed characters, and it doesn’t test your patience.

Juries are strange. You can never second-guess them. But I find it curious that two of the three members of the Canadian jury were female directors—Sarah Polley (Away from Her) and Ann Marie Fleming (The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam). They voted for the film that seeks empathy for a negligent mother who’s husband is a cipher, rather than the one about an abandoned father who’s wife is a cipher. Not that I’m suggesting they chose the more politically correct option.

As for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which I saw late Saturday night at a free public screening, I didn’t share the People’s choice. Found it to be an overly slick and sentimental melodrama, in spite of the “gritty” Bombay location. Got sick of all the tilted camera angles and over-saturated colours. My choice would be Rachel Getting Married or The Wrestler. But hey, you can’t quarrel with democracy.

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