If there is one person winning at VIFF this year, it’s got to be Canadian bad boy Xavier Dolan. Not only has he impressed the crowd with his stunning directorial effort Mommy but he’s appeared in no less than two other films screening at the festival. The first, a middling drama from Daniel Grou (the only memorable part of that film are the performances, particularly that of Dolan) and now Elephant Song, a period drama based on a play of the same name.
Directed by Charles Binamé, Elephant Song stars Dolan as Michael Aleen, a troubled young man committed to an asylum and his afternoon chat with Dr. Toby Green (Bruce Greenwood). Dr. Green isn’t Michael’s regular shrink but he’s been asked to speak to the boy to try and find out where his regular doctor has disappeared to. In the two hours that follow, Dolan and Greenwood banter back and forth, mostly in circles, and Michael slowly shares personal details about his past. Apparently Greenwood can’t just read the file because he left his glasses at home…yeah.
Occasionally Elephant Song leans in some interesting directions and starts to get at something really worthwhile but just as soon as it does, it pulls back as if neither Binamé nor screen writer Nicolas Billon, who adapted this from his stage play, want to rock the boat. It’s obvious that this was originally a play and to add some dynamic, Binamé intercuts memories and short scenes taking place outside the office but rather than grow the story, the exterior scenes only work to enclosed the room further.
The only good thing Elephant Song has going for it are the performances and particularly that of Dolan who is fantastic as the unhinged Michael and while he and Greenwood are great, Catherine Keener and Carrie-Anne Moss are criminally underused. Regardless, the good performances simply aren’t enough to float the rest of the movie.