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SUNDANCE: 'The Salesman' Pitches Economic Despair, Loneliness and Loss

The Salesman - Sundance 2011

PARK CITY -- "For me, they are kind of modern priests of economics."

That may seem like hyperbole when one considers the subject matter of The Salesman director Sebastien Pilote's pronouncement: car salesmen.

But Pilote does elevate the role of the humble car salesman in the devastating French-Canadian film, which is largely a meditation on economic despair, loneliness and loss. It screened Friday morning at the Egyptian Theatre as part of Sundance's World Cinema Dramatic Competition.

The film follows star salesman Marcel Levesque -- portrayed to heartbreaking effect by Gilbert Sicotte -- who is utterly immersed in making the next sale. The impending closure of a paper plant in his small town of Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec, casts a pall over the car lot, and a sense of dread builds throughout the film.

Perhaps it builds too slowly. At least a handful of audience members at the Friday screening left before the film reached its painful climax.

"The drama starts at the end of the film -- I wanted it like that," said first-time feature director Pilote at a Q&A following the screening. The director, who also penned the script, said the film morphed from an idea he had for a documentary about car salesmen.

The Salesman is a slow burner to be sure; whether it can connect with a wide audience remains to be seen.