Following a special section in last year’s AFI Fest, and a trio of titles at this year’s LA Film Festival, I am developing rather a fondness for Québécois cinema. Without presuming to pigeonhole an entire region’s cultural output, one can recognise in Le Vendeur a quiet wit, straightforwardness and lack of illusions that seem characteristic.
Marcel Lévesque is in his late sixties, but still works at the car dealership where he has been the number one salesman every month for sixteen years, and dismisses all suggestion of retirement. It’s a declining industrial town in the depth of winter, some hours from Quebec City, and the film is punctuated with the number of days the local plant has been closed (over eight months). This effects the whole community, but Marcel can even flog a car to a laid-off worker. He is a kind, friendly man, a jovial, loving father and grandfather, but still a killer salesman, chummy and persistent rather than pushy, firmly believing that everyone needs a new car: “I lie to make people happy”.
Something happens. The film flows along without any apparently significant event until it does, simply filling out the few details of Marcel’s routine life, fleshing the character, conjuring the sublime placidity of his existence, and making all the more powerful the cracks that appear in his tranquil mien (veteran Gilbert Sicotte is superb). If he seemed dedicated to his work before, it now looks more like his life than his job; the others on the lot are uncomfortable at his not taking a break, but we feel the full force of his lonely tragedy, and recognise the car lot as his only life raft.
It is a finely controlled feature debut from Sébastien Pilote, discreetly shot, with some beautiful snowy moments, and similarly low-key but effective music; matters proceeds with fine, unhurried pacing that conveys a sense of the gentle rhythm of the town’s life, but it reveals itself in the end to be a film of devastating hopelessness and unexpected power.
Watch the Trailer below.