Camion: Karlovy Vary Film Review
Writer-director Rafaël Ouellett's indie drama follows a tragedy that helps mend the broken relationship between a widowed father and his adult sons.
KARLOVY VARY -- A random tragedy helps heal the broken bonds between a widowed father and his adult sons in this quietly engrossing Canadian indie drama, which is fresh from its world premiere as part of the official competition at the Karlovy Vary film festival. As in his three previous features, the young writer-director Rafaël Ouellett offers crisp narrative purity and novelistic insights into family dynamics, and all on a minimal budget. The bilingual, mostly French dialogue may limit the film’s prospects outside Francophone territories, but Camion could well find a global niche audience among fans of subtitled subtlety. Nuanced and literary in texture, it lives up to the traditionally high standards of Quebecois cinema.
The story opens with a bang. Germain, a veteran trucker living in Quebec’s rural hinterlands, is left shell-shocked after a young woman smashes her car into his truck and dies of her injuries. Although Germain is not legally responsible, the crushing burden of guilt still drives him towards suicidal despair. He reaches out to his two thirtysomething sons, introverted Montreal janitor Sam (Patrice Dubois) and womanising drifter Alain (Stephane Breton), who lives in a low-rent motel on Canada’s Atlantic coast. Three lost souls, all frozen in time by different traumatic events, are reunited by another family’s catastrophic loss.
The film’s notional star, Julien Poulin, is a Quebecois TV veteran with an agreeably rubbery and life-battered face. But most of the story’s emotional force derives from the two actors playing his sons, who are mismatched physically but convincing in their easy screen chemistry. In contrast to the soft-faced, blue-eyed, soulfully sad Dubois, the dark and lean Breton is the film’s real emotional dynamo, a toothy livewire with an unsettling resemblance to Jerry Seinfeld after a decade-long drink-and-drugs binge.
Ouellett has a long track record of directing music shows for television in his native Quebec. Music is smartly integrated into Camion, sometimes even informing the dialogue. The spare score features a mix of chilly orchestral chamber pieces and mournful folk-rock, including a dark alt-country ballad by Richmond Fontaine that sparks a conversation between the two brothers on their long road journey home, wittily highlighting their wildly different psyches. Later, on a therapeutic hunting expedition with their father, both brothers sing a few twangy bars of Duelling Banjos from John Boorman’s backwoods horror classic Deliverance, a small but wholly plausible pop-culture observation that also serves as a self-referential movie in-joke.
Some of the strengths of Camion are, perhaps inevitably, also weaknesses. While the dramatically staged accident is a strong start, any film about a lonely widower’s slide into guilt-ridden inertia will unavoidably have its downer moments. Ouellett shoots rural Quebec in autumnal browns and greys, which suits the flattened emotional mood, but does tend to deepen the story’s depressing drabness. Plus, of course, plotlines about mismatched brothers working out their father issues are older than the Bible.
To his credit, Ouellett turns all this potentially clichéd glumness into an absorbing story about an estranged family reconnected and redeemed by terrible events. The detail feels rich, the dialogue authentic. Even the festive finale, potentially corny in a less subtle movie, is handled with understated grace.
Venue: Karlovy Vary film festival, premiere screening, July 1
Production companies: Coop Vidéo de Montréal, Téléfilm Canada
Cast: Julien Poulin, Patrice Dubois, Stéphane Breton, Noémie Godin-Vigneau
Director: Rafaël Ouellett
Writer: Rafaël Ouellett
Producer: Stéphanie Morissette
Cinematography: Geneviève Perron
Editor: Rafaël Ouellet
Music: Viviane Audet, Robin-Joël Cool
Sales company: Coop Vidéo de Montréal
Rating TBC, 95 minutes.