TIFF 2010 #3
The festival’s Canada First programme dramatizes couples in crisis
By Marc Glassman
The High Cost of Living & Jaloux (Jealousy)
The High Cost of Living
Deborah Chow, director and script
Starring: Zach Braff (Henry), Isabelle Blais (Nathalie), Patrick Labbé (Michel)
Patrick Demers, director and co-script w/the actors
Starring: Sophie Cadieux (Marianne), Benoit Gouin (Benoit/Jean), Maxime Denommée (Thomas)
The High Cost of Living
Henry, an American hipster living illegally in Montreal, panics when he mistakenly hits Nathalie, a pregnant Quebecoise, while driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street. Overcome with guilt, he calls the police to take Nathalie to a local hospital and then tries to find out what happened to her. When he finds out the truth—that she’s lost the baby but is still carrying the fetus until she’s recovered enough to have an operation—Henry decides to be her Guardian Angel.
Deborah Chow’s first feature could have been unbearably melodramatic but the articulate Anglo-Asian-Canadian director has triumphed, making a languorous, charming character study of characters in search of meaning and redemption in their lives.
While Nathalie’s husband (Patrick Labbé) can’t deal with the tragic death of their unborn child, she tries to get on with life. Henry connects with her by defending Nathalie from a Yuppie couple who insult her for drinking a glass of wine at a local Montreal bistro. Seems she might be hurting her (dead) baby.
Sparks fly between the duo, who are well played by American TV (Scrubs) and Indie film (Garden State) star Zach Braff and the Quebecoise film (Barbarian Invasions) and stage (Masque winner) actress and singer (Caiman Fu) Isabelle Blais. Opposites do attract each other!
Chow is wonderful at evoking the bohemian appeal of Montreal’s Mile End and Plateau districts, where Henry and Nathalie live. She’s succeeded in making a multi-cultural city full of Asians and Haitians (as well as Anglos and Quebec’s “pur laine” population) come alive.
Henry, too, comes alive, moving from unassuming drug dealer to a responsible adult—which forces Nathalie to respond to his declarations of love.
High Cost of Living has problems in maintaining its tone, which moves from comic to tragic continuously. But Chow has made a fine first feature—and directed persuasively a very Odd Couple.
A tense thriller set in Quebec’s cottage country, Jaloux centres on squabbling couple Marianne (Cadieux) and Thomas (Denommée), who encounter Benoit (Gouin), when they arrive to enjoy a weekend at Thomas’ uncle’s place. Benoit is supposed to be the next-door neighbouring handyman but the audience knows straight away that it’s a lie.
By turns erotic and violent, Jaloux explores the emotions of a couple in crisis. With Benoit on hand to spur them on, the two become temporarily unhinged: Marianne becomes outrageously flirtatious while Thomas reverts back to adolescent irresponsibility.
What makes Jaloux remarkable is its mode of creation. “The story was created with the actors over six months, in 12 meetings,” recalls Demers. “Only small scenes were written down for the 16 day shoot. We gave ourselves the right to rework every scene.
“No dialogue was written. We dropped scenes. We changed scenes. The whole crew was “locked up”—billeted—in a near-by country house. People went to sleep thinking about the movie. And they got up and had breakfast, talking about the movie.
“We shot with a Red camera,” he says, of a production that cost only $100,000 while being shot. “Every night, we’d look at the rushes and decide what was good, what should be changed and what should be reshot. We wrote the film that way.”
Jaloux moves to a denouement that is tragic but inevitable. All three can’t survive in a ménage a trois. The film delivers that tough lesson while showing that improvisation can work well even in a genre film.