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Part David Lynch, part Alain Resnais, with a tad of Inception tossed into the mix, Endorphine is a formally arresting, narratively mystifying experimental feature from French Canadian filmmaker Andre Turpin. Better known as the cinematographer of such lauded homegrown efforts as Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, Turpin nonetheless showcases his directorial chops in this compelling and confusing time-tripping tale about a young girl who witnesses her mother’s brutal murder and then relives the events in dreams and waking life, tumbling into a nightmarish wormhole she can never quite escape.
Premiering in Toronto’s Vanguard section, this is the kind of movie that could earn a cult following at festivals and among midnight movie fans, who could appreciate its technical prowess and array of striking, often disturbing imagery – not to mention cultural references ranging from a cinematic recreation of Robert Frank’s famous photo “Trolley, New Orleans” to a scene straight out of A Christmas Story.
Jumping between sequences set over several time periods – one involving a 12-year-old girl, Simone (Sophie Nelisse); another Simone as an adult (Mylene Mackay); and yet another Simone as an old woman (Lise Roy) – the story explores how deeply the girl is traumatized when she watches her mom being killed in the stairwell of an office building. Unable to help, Simone passes out, only to awake in a perpetual loop where she keeps seeing the attack over and over again at different stages of her life, incapable of distinguishing between reality and the workings of her own mind.
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There’s no real murder mystery here – we know who the killer is, but it doesn’t seem to matter – nor much of an exploration of character beyond the ripple effects the homicide has on Simone’s psyche. The film does however offer up an investigation into quantum physics and relativity principles during a series of lectures intercut with the action – which also involves an infatuation tale between Simone and her actress neighbor, who she spies on Rear Window-style from across the alleyway.
Those viewers looking to latch onto a thriller scenario will thus be disappointed by a movie that purposely turns in circles rather than offering a simple three-act structure. But the leaps in space and time can be intriguingly handled, with recurring shots of Simone losing consciousness, sometimes on purpose via asphyxiation games she engages in with her cousin – a boy she even tries to French kiss on one occasion.
As bizarre as this all seems – and don’t forget the hole that suddenly appears in the middle of Simone’s hand, or the scene where someone (her dead mother?) rips off her finger – Turpin’s assured direction makes Endorphine a watchable affair, albeit of an extremely dark and Lynchian variety. Working with DP Josee Deshaies (Saint Laurent) and sound designer Sylvain Bellemare, he creates a vivid dream world that feels both real and movielike at the same time, forcing us to question the veracity of what we see, just as Simone questions whether her imagination has finally got the better of her.
Production company: micro_scope
Cast: Sophie Nelisse, Mylene Mackay, Lise Roy, Guy Thauvette, Monia Chokri
Director, screenwriter: Andre Turpin
Producers: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw
Director of photography: Josee Deshaies
Production designer: Emmanuel Frechette
Costume designer: Valerie Belegou
Editor: Sophie Leblond
Composer: Francois Lafontaine
Casting director: Lucie Robitaille
International sales: Seville International
No rating, 84 minutes
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