Le Demantelement: Cannes Review
Cannes Critics’ Week screening, May 17
Gabriel Arcand, Sophie Desmarais, Lucie Laurier, Pierre-Luc Brillant
Sebastien Pilote's family drama unfolds like "King Lear" with sheep in rural Quebec.
The deep bond of love between a man and his sheep must not be trifled with lightly. That seems to be the take-home message of this lovingly crafted but overlong pastoral reverie from Quebecois writer-director Sebastien Pilote, which is showing in the Critics’ Week section in Cannes. Potentially of interest to Canadian and Francophone viewers, Le Demantelement has a certain restrained charm, but feels too culturally parochial and dramatically underpowered to appeal to wider overseas markets.
Gabriel Arcand, younger brother of the feted Quebecois director Denys, gives a thoughtful and internalized performance as Gaby Gagnon, a world-weary 63-year-old divorcee carving a bare-bones living on the isolated sheep farm he inherited from his father in the impoverished rural fringes of French-speaking Canada. His self-absorbed grown-up daughters, suburban housewife Marie (Lucie Laurier) and aspiring actress Frédérique (Sophie Desmarais), both live hours away in Montreal and rarely come home to visit.
One day, Marie turns up in an anxious state. On the verge of divorce and deeply in debt, she presses her father for a large loan. Gaby gradually persuades himself he has no option but to sell his house, farm and beloved sheep, against the advice of angry friends and disappointed neighbors. A small rented apartment in social housing above a busy highway will be his new home. “Fathers need to give to be happy,” he explains to a baffled Frédérique, “we’re like that.”
In common with his previous feature, The Salesman, Pilote’s low-key domestic drama is a bittersweet study of quietly heroic self-sacrifice in the economically depressed boondocks of his native Quebec. The plot was partly inspired by French writer Balzac’s 1835 novel Le Père Goriot, which in turn paid indirect homage to Shakespeare’s King Lear – indeed, Pilote accentuates the Lear connection heavily at various points here.
Shot on 35mm film, Le Demantelement looks gorgeous, with the rolling lakeside landscape of Gaby’s farm seemingly bathed in a permanent golden twilight. The plaintive, folksy, country-tinged score by Serge Nakauchi-Pelletier is also a selling point. But not even an entire flock of sun-dappled sheep swaying gently to a wistful lap-steel guitar can add the crucial edge of excitement missing from this glacially slow, deeply conventional, emotionally lukewarm family saga.
Production company: Corporation ACPAV
Producers: Bernadette Payeur, Marc d’Aigle
Director: Sebastien Pilote
Starring: Gabriel Arcand, Sophie Desmarais, Lucie Laurier, Pierre-Luc Brillant
Writer: Sebastien Pilote
Cinematographer: Michel La Veaux
Editor: Stephane Lafleur
Music: Serge Nakauchi-Pelletier
Sales company: Entertainment One Films International
Unrated, 111 minutes