Journey's End -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- A somewhat detached chronicle of life at a senior citizens' residential facility in a scenic corner of Quebec, "Journey's End" is the latest addition to what is becoming a particularly popular sub-genre of non-fiction cinema. The rapidly-aging populations of western nations may be a taxing demographic time bomb for economists and governments, but they also represent something of a gold-mine for film-makers.

There's not much that's outstandingly accomplished or unusual about this particular example, but it's sufficiently professional and intriguing to ensure considerable popularity with festivals specializing in -- or receptive to -- documentary fare, with a similarly warm reception likely further down the line among TV-channel buyers.

This second film from 33-year-old Quebecois Jean-Francois Caissy (after 2005's "Mating Season") is a fly-on-the-wall portrait of L'Auberge des Caps, a former motel perched high on a bluff overlooking a large lake, adjacent to a major traffic route. The institution's previous role is never specified in the film, but can be deduced from the layout and decor of the rooms, which have been discreetly adapted for seniors' usage.

Indeed, there's not very much information that is given to the viewer here: no voiceover, no on-screen captions, nothing that would resemble a conventional "interview" with the subjects (and no score, apart the music which accompanies the closing credit-roll). Caissy is very much in the business of showing rather than telling, and he records the activities of his subjects -- who, according to the film's press-notes, include his own grandmother Elisabeth Caissy -- with an anthropologist's calm, patient rigor.

Caissy downplays elements which other directors might well have emphasized: a cute, fox-like dog whose free-roaming, independent ways are a deadpan delight; a red-haired lady resident who's in sprightlier health and seems rather more active and engaged than many of her peers. But these attention-grabbing "participants" aren't given any kind of special prominence in Mathieu Bouchard-Malo's editing.

Transferred from HD to 35mm, Nicolas Canniccioni's cinematography meanwhile explores a drab palette of faded pastels to evoke the slightly airless atmosphere of senior-citizens' personal space, though always with an underlying sense of dignity and appropriate respect, marbled with an inevitable elegaic poignancy.

Taking its cue from the sedentary pace of its subjects, "Journey's End" (advertised in Berlin under its Francophone title "La Belle Visite") ticks along at a gentle tempo that may strike some as slightly soporific, but which yields sufficient droll delights to keep us watching throughout the brisk running-time.

And Caissy saves the very best till last, as Canniccioni's camera follows dutifully behind one old gent as he wordlessly conducts what we presume is his nightly solo walk around the building. It's an audaciously extended single shot that recalls Belgium's Dardenne brothers or the Argentinian slow-cinema style epitomized by Lisandro Alonso, and hints at a formal ambitiousness which Caissy would do well to develop next time around.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
Production companies: Les Films de l'Autre, Montreal; Maria Films, Montreal
Director: Jean-Francois Caissy
Producer: Jean-Francois Caissy
Director of photography: Nicolas Canniccioni
Music: Julien Bilodeau
Editor: Mathieu Bouchard-Malo
Sales: Les Films de l'Autre, Montreal
No rating, 79 minutes
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