I always try to squeeze in a handful of Canadian features throughout my festival going (it’s often the only time I really get to see new emerging Canadian talent) and I’m either getting really good at selecting titles or this year’s batch of films are particularly strong. On this Canadian film roundup, I touch base on three Canadian features: Terry Miles’ woman-in-crisis story Cinemanovels, Jeff Barnaby’s brilliant feature debut Rhymes for Young Ghouls and the Cannes selected Sarah Prefers to Run (click on the title to jump directly to the movie).
I first discovered Terry Miles’ work at VIFF in 2009 with the release of The Red Rooster (review). I didn’t care much for that movie but Miles showed great promise and the following year I had a chance to see his follow-up A Night for Dying Tigers and again I was disappointed to find a movie that looked great and showed promise in the script but didn’t really manage to deliver. I was convinced that Cinemanovels was going to be the movie to break the mould and that with it, Miles would finally hit the jackpot and deliver a really great movie and for the most part, he has succeeded.
Lauren Lee Smith is fantastic in her leading performance here as Grace, a 30 something married woman going through a midlife crisis. She and her husband (Ben Cotton is also pretty great here) have been trying to have a baby and Grace is frustrated by the process. Things aren’t helped any when her father, a celebrated Canadian film director who abandoned Grace and her mother for his young muse, dies. In an attempt to learn more about her dad, Grace offers to curate a showing of his works, a process which brings her closer to understanding the man her father was and also helps her deal with the problems in her own life.
Cinemanovels features Miles’ excellent cinematography, great performances, particularly from Smith who is magnetic on screen, and a story that is not only interesting but well developed. The woman in crisis theme has been appearing a lot lately and my common complaint with many of them is that the women all feel unrealistic and childish. Grace’s situation is relatable and her actions and reactions feel real.
It’s not perfect (would have been nice to see a bit more from Katharine Isabelle whose character is mostly unnecessary and the movie clips from Grace’s great Canadian master director are painfully bad) but Cinemanovels is funny, touching, smart and the movie Miles has been working towards for years.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls
It has been years, probably since Xavier Dolan emerged with I Killed My Mother, since a Canadian director has debuted with a movie as impressive as Jeff Barnaby and Rhymes for Young Ghouls.
Taking place some time between the late 60s to mid 70s, Barnaby’s film tells the story of a young woman named Aila who has grown up on the reservation in a time when Canada’s troubled Residential School system was in place. Through lots of savvy and hard work, she’s managed to stay clear of the local school official, a mean SOB named Popper (Mark Antony Krupa), and has kept her herself mostly out of trouble – a difficult task considering she’s essentially raised herself.
Through his telling of Aila’s personal story, Barnaby captures the struggle of thousands of other individuals who suffered through similar fates and he does so with respect and a surprising sense of humour. Rhymes for Young Ghouls is certainly dark and beautiful but it’s also funny and that’s only one of the things that makes Ghouls so special: it defies expectation. It’s a dark story of personally struggle and eventual perseverance but it’s also a period piece, a crime drama, a coming of age story, an animated film and light comedy all wrapped into one and it manages to include all of this without losing sight of the central story and the emotional core.
With Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Barnaby has not only established himself as an important voice in first nations filmmaking but simply as a director with an exceptionally bright future. I can’t wait to see what he has for us next.
Sarah Prefers To Run
Director Chloé Robichaud preceded the screening of her feature debut by explaining that the movie’s titular character of Sarah doesn’t conform to the populous idea of femininity. I thought that was an interesting way to set up the film, though I’m not sure Sarah Prefers to Run really creates a character vastly different than any other we’ve seen before.
Sarah is a high school student who loves running. It seems to be the thing that defines her. She decides to take her chances and leave home for university, even though she doesn’t have a scholarship and can’t apply for student aid (it’s never fully explained why she can’t apply but there you have it). She makes the move with Antoine, a co-worker and friend who shows hints of being interested in Sarah as more than just friends and when they arrive in the City, the two enter into a partnership arrangement that complicates and tests their friendship.
Robichaud’s movie tells the story of a young woman discovering and coming to grips with the fact that she’s attracted to women. Sophie Desmarais’ performance is wonderful, she’s beautifully emotive and you can almost see the wheels turning in her head as she discovers something new about her sexuality, but Sarah Prefers to Run is too detached from any emotion. The movie continually hints at underlying themes and ideas that it never explores and I was particularly disappointed that we never learn why Sarah’s relationship with her mother is so strained, a bit of insight which would have helped make Sarah a bit warmer. Ultimately, Sarah Prefers to Run is Well made but bland.