Friday, June 27, 2014
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
Cinemanovels  (written and directed by Terry Miles) is a Canadian indie film, that in its politeness, even as it touches potentially explosive subjects, feels to this American (re)viewer remarkably ... Canadian ;-). The film has played recently at Chicago's Facets Multimedia,
The film centers around a nice if seemingly ever disappointed 30-something Canadian woman named Grace (played by Lauren Lee Smith) married to a polite (if at times amusingly contradictory) 30-something Canadian investment banker named Ben (played by Ben Cotton).
Together they've been trying to have a child and it hasn't been particularly easy. Indeed in the opening scene, we see the two in a rather perfunctory if at least apparently "private" room in a fertility clinic with Grace (hand off-screen) apparently tugging at Ben's ... in hopes of collecting a sperm sample to leave at the clinic, the sounds of some sort of a porn film heard in the background. It seems rather clear that neither of them are particularly into it -- it becomes clear as the film goes on, that they've been "there" before -- but the task needs to be done. Eventually, there's "success." Ben's sperm sample is dutifully collected in a specimen cup and just as dutifully capped. Ben puts his pants back on, kisses his wife and presumably heads off to work. Grace is dutifully left to carry the capped specimen cup to the nurses' station for analysis. But it's obvious that she's tired of this, or otherwise doesn't see the point. On the way to the nurses' station, she stops in a bathroom and ... switches the sample for a few mL's of hand soap ;-). Would ANYONE really recognize the difference (of course they would ... BUT WOULD IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE ANYWAY ...)?
So we get a sense of Grace's state of mind fairly early on. Now why would she be like that?
Well, it turns out that she's the daughter of an über-famous Canadian, francophone to boot, (fictitious) director, recently deceased, named John Laurentain. We hear him eulogized by two super-earnest, indeed fawning media critics at the close of some random CBC television program as: "One who taught us all, anglophone and francophone, what it means to be Canadian." Wonderful. The only problem for Grace is that SHE HARDLY KNEW HIM. WHY? BECAUSE HE RAN OFF WITH A YOUNG (presumably) QUEBECOIS STARLET NAMED "SOPHIE" WHEN GRACE WAS THREE (Sophie, who then starred in most of Laurentain's films, was played absolutely perfectly in her magnificently _pretentious_ existentialist 60s-70s era roles by Cate Michaud).
So, "national" / "Quebecois" treasure though he was, he was also a "___" as Grace's best friend Clementine (played by Jessica Beals) reminds her.
Yet "____" though he was, he was ALSO Grace's dad. So ... early in the film, after going over to sign some papers at her father's film production company (presumably in Montreal or Toronto), she finds herself volunteering to curate a "retrospective" of her father's work EVEN THOUGH SHE HATED HIM AND HAD NEVER EVEN SEEN ANY OF HIS THIRTY-FOUR (!) FILMS, but also PRECISELY BECAUSE IN LIFE SHE KNEW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT HIM THIS COULD PERHAPS HELP HER TO UNDERSTAND WHO HE ACTUALLY WAS. Talk about inner conflict ... When she explains all this to Clementine, she (as supportively as she could) just shakes her head ...
The rest of the movie unspools from there. Unsurprisingly, Grace procrastinates with the project, even as she ALSO remains supremely ambivalent about whether she really wanted a child with her investment banker husband (who for amusement liked collecting and READING pompous, extremely _heavy_ "classical Communist literature" on the side ;-). Eventually, she gets help from a young media exec / neighbor of theirs named Adam (played by Kett Turton) who it turns out to have written his thesis on her father's work.
It's all quite painful, but as the film proceeds (not much of a SPOILER) ... she inevitably comes to better understand her now deceased father. And indeed, this is why I went to see the film, and why I do think that the film would be worth the time to see for MIDDLE AGED CHILDREN of (NOW) AGING OR EVEN DECEASED PARENTS.
I do honestly believe that as one enters into one's own middle age, one can come to start to understand the decisions / mistakes / "mistakes" of one's parents when THEY were middle-aged and PERHAPS then one can come to accept them and, as needed, forgive them.
This is a Canadian film, so it is LESS angry than the recent American film People Like Us  that covered similar ground. Still, it gives middle aged people, perhaps angry at their parents, a chance to reflect on their own parents' lives and perhaps be able to understand them better and forgive them as well.
In that sense, I can only applaud this very nice, if at times exasperating, appropriately R-rated, Canadian film: It tries really hard to make, in the end, a very nice point.
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