SUNDANCE REVIEW: Engaging Performances Lift Disheartening 'The Salesman'

The Salesman - Sundance 2011
 A long, bleak slog eventually leads to tragedy in well-made but depressing character study.

Directed by Sébastien Pilote, leading man Gilbert Sicotte stars in a tragic film about tough times and trying to get through it.

PARK CITY — Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition — A slow slice of life in tough times interrupted by very bad news, The Salesman matches economic downturn with the frozen-over landscape of Northern Quebec. Sensitivity to its subjects and a superb performance by Gilbert Sicotte offer some arthouse value, but this unrepentant downer will have a hard time at the box office.

Sicotte plays Marcel, a gifted car salesman whose easy-sell way with customers makes him unlike fiction's better-known salesmen. Uninterested in retiring despite his advanced age, he spends his little off-duty time taking his daughter and grandson to bingo-hall socials and hockey games.

Marcel's small town is suffering from a paper-plant shutdown whose duration is chronicled periodically with an on-screen tally: 240 days, 252 days, 256 days without work. With fewer shoppers coming in, Marcel and his co-workers languish in their drab cinder-block surroundings, staring through Venetian blinds at a snow-covered lot with too many cars on it.

Writer/director Sébastien Pilote moves at the pace of accumulating ice, lingering on mundane scenes so long that viewers will likely have assumed that's all they're getting when, around two-thirds of the way in, Marcel's humdrum life becomes tragic.

Sicotte is eloquent in his projection of grief, and Pilote captures the performance tenderly. But watching the actor work isn't quite enough reward here. A subplot involving a laid-off factory worker who unwisely succumbed to Marcel's sales pitch adds dramatic interest but feels like a twisting knife, ladling unnecessary sadness onto this already bleak tale.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Production Company: Corporation ACPAV
Cast: Gilbert Sicotte, Nathalie Cavezzali, Jérémy Tessier, Jean-François Boudreau, Pierre Leblanc
Director-Screenwriter: Sébastien Pilote
Producers: Bernadette Payeur, Marc Daigle
Director of photography: Michel La Veaux
Production designer: Mario Hervieux
Music: Pierre Lapointe, Philippe Brault
Editor: Michel Arcand
Sales: Entertainment One
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