The wry, deadpan humour found in the various Québécois films on offer at this year’s LA Film Festival reaches an apotheosis in the droll and wintery (are they all?) En terrains connus, by director Stéphane Lafleur, whose vision of despondent, smalltown existence bears comparison with the absurdities and suppression of Kaurismaki.
There’s a gimmick in this movie in the form of a man from the future, come to warn of disaster, who appears mysteriously (and unidentified) to Maryse, and then to her sadsack brother Benoit. He is an anomaly that is never explained, straightforwardly-presented and touched with self-deprecating humour (he’s from only a few months in the future) that is (only just) justified by the wry but realistic absurdity of the rest of the film.
Francis La Haye as Benoit has a funny face that fits right in, and most of the film’s amusement is generated around him: a ridiculous way to build a fire, a ridiculous family roast. In his dead-end life he is constantly frustrated and angered by seemingly everything and everyone around him; his wheezing father, with whom he lives, puts him down; he appears to have no job; his sad-faced girlfriend has a devil child who torments him; and he confesses to his sister that he’s had a “shit winter”. She has troubles of her own, drifting through her existence, sometimes literally, accompanied by slo-mo and spacey music, with a preoccupied anxiety about severed arms following a factory accident. She is disengaged from life for no reason she can define, slowly drifting out of her marriage to a loving, cheerful husband.
Brother and sister don’t quite get on, in a regular squabbling sibling way, but Benoit nearly does something terrible to her, out of his own desperation. Disaster averted, they start to grow closer, on an errand together to their country cottage. Their relationship has that sibling warmth which can bubble up when the squabbles are subdued. There’s no big reconciliation, revelation or growth, but it does look as though they are learning a little how to get on, and how to engage with life. Which makes Benoit’s final decision a little strange.
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