TIFF13 Reel Reviews: Le Demantelement

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Le Démantèlement is not likely to be seen by a lot of people, and yet it is certain to be one of the best dramatic feature films this year.  This is a family drama where family has been whittled down to one; Gaby, a sturdy, 60-something sheep farmer on the verge of bankruptcy.  We meet the rest of the family, two daughters and an ex-wife, slowly over three chapters.

Le Démantèlement, is reminiscent of a type of 70s cinema typified by filmmakers like Bob Rafelson, Wim Wenders and Haskell Wexler; films that challenged traditional Hollywood idealism and altered the American movie landscape.  But the landscape here is Canadian, specifically rural Quebec, where the economically depressed reality is offset by an idyllic pastoral beauty.

The film has already performed well at Cannes where it earned a SACD Award (best screenplay) for its director Sébastien Pilote.  By any standard, an award at Cannes is a prestigious enough accolade to carry the film onto the next level of cinéphiles and potential buyers.  That momentum is likely to continue during its North American premiere here at TIFF2013 but will festival-buzz bring to Le Démantèlement the same good fortune that befell films like Incendies (2010), and Monsieur Lazhar (2011)?

Le Démantèlement is nearly void of the kind of light touches that helped audiences get beyond Monsieur Lazhar‘s dramatic opening depicting a classroom suicide. In Pilote’s film the dismantling of a man and of the only life he knows can be relentless.  But Pilote has such fondness for his characters that the beat is inspiring rather than down.  Much of this has to do with Gabriel Arcand’s performance who gives Gaby a quiet resolve and great dignity even when walking with head down and hands buried deep in his pockets.

The comparison of Le Démantèlement to other Quebecois films is intentional.  There is an advantage to being a filmmaker in a community that has prioritized the promotion and support of its film industry, and have thereby created a distinct cinematic voice for the province.  Pilote, is a recent member having gained a dedicated home-province audience with recognition that is quickly expanding to a national and international scale.  He has one prior feature to his credit, the acclaimed Le Vendeur (2001) which earned five Jutra nominations including Best Film and Best Screenplay and earned its star, Gilbert Sicotte a Best Actor Award.

EOne has already signed on for an all media distribution rights in Canada, and Film Movement, which specializes in presenting art-house films on DVD as well as television rights, has the U.S. market.

Whether word-of-mouth and festival accolades can push Le Démantèlement to a wider audience is yet to be seen.  The film is deserving of a theatrical release if only because it would be a shame for this movie to get lost beneath a muddle of V.O.D.’s or selected DVD releases.

Public screenings: Sept. 11 at 6:45 p.m.; Sept. 12 at 3:45 p.m.

Thom Ernst is a film writer, critic and former exec producer and host of TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies. Throughout the Toronto International Film Festival, he’ll be offering insight into, and market analysis on, Canadian films in the festival lineup.