Director: Denis Côté
Screenplay: Denis Côté
Starring: Emmanuel Bilodeau, Philomène Bilodeau, Roc LaFortune, Sophie Desmarais, Muriel Dutil, Yves Trudel
Running Time: 96 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
The Canadian province of Quebec is interesting in terms of filmmaking as its industry is regarded to be distinct from that of Canadian cinema as a whole. This is largely because Quebec is a predominantly French-speaking area, whereas the English language is more widespread elsewhere in Canada. So the films made in Quebec have their own unique identity, somewhere between French and Canadian cinema. The province has been home to a number of respected filmmakers too. Denys Arcand, Xavier Dolan and Denis Villeneuve are some of the most well known.
Less fêted, but well regarded on the festival circuit, is Denis Côté. He began his career as a film critic in the mid-90s, but made short films during this period before making his first feature in 2005. He’s been busy ever since, writing and directing shorts and features regularly, largely shot in Quebec.
Second Run have chosen to release Curling, one of Côté’s films from 2010, on Blu-ray. It found great success at the Locarno festival in Switzerland, picking up awards for best director and actor, but hasn’t previously seen a release in the UK.
Set in a remote part of rural Quebec, Curling sees a man, Jean-Francois (Emmanuel Bilodeau) living in relative isolation with his young teenage daughter, Julyvonne (Philomène Bilodeau). Jean-Francois goes out to work as a cleaner and handyman at a bowling rink and motel, before the latter gets shut down, but Julyvonne stays at home. Jean-Francois is frightened of allowing his daughter to face the dangers of the world, so keeps her away from school, TV, the internet and most other social gatherings. Julyvonne longs to get out though.
The pair trudge on through their routine, shut-off existence, but two separate discoveries of dead bodies have a big impact on them both in different ways.
This was a ‘blind-watch’ for me. I have no prior experience with Côté’s films and didn’t know much about Curling other than what I read on the disc’s blurb. I must say, I was rather impressed. It has an unusual atmosphere, with the sense that something bad is going to happen, even if actions on screen are largely quite mundane. The idea has some similarities to Dogtooth, which is also about parents that cut their children off from the rest of the world. However, Côté’s film is less extreme, with more love between the central pair and small moments of freedom, where Dogtooth’s heroine has to make a daring escape. Curling is an altogether more natural affair, with less outwardly surreal flourishes. It still has traces of black comedy though (often via Jean-Francois’ flamboyant boss Kennedy, played by Roc LaFortune) and the two corpse subplots are very odd.
Speaking of which, these dark, puzzling tangents will be divisive among audiences. Most notably, neither strand is tied up, leading to an ambiguous ending that some might find frustrating. Personally, I was happy with how the film concluded though. The most important drive of the film is the relationship between Jean-Francois and Julyvonne, and this is resolved, albeit subtly. Where the dead bodies have come from or what will happen with them afterwards isn’t actually important to the story. It’s how each of the characters deal with them that is important to their development. Jean-Francois’ hiding of the young boy he finds lying in the road is a little hard-to-swallow, but it does reflect the lengths he’ll go to avoid the exposure such an incident would attract from the police and press. Julyvonne’s curiosity and secrecy over the anonymous corpses she comes across are more acceptable, though the comfort she finds among them is most unusual. Again, it works with her character on reflection though. She’s been so cut-off from the outside world that she would have different preconceptions about death. She has precious little to connect with too and spends so much time sitting bored in silence that a dead body is a close analogy to her own existence.
Côté’s refusal to tie everything in a neat bow, including explaining ongoing details (most notably why Julyvonne’s mother is in prison), works best however in keeping his audience ‘active’. Côté wants people to think during and after watching his film, not simply sit back and let the story wash over them.
There is a strong sense of mystery to keep viewers interested though. Small details are dropped in here and there to keep you wanting more or to solve it yourself. The film is beautifully made enough to engage too, despite a lack of grand on-screen incidents. Utilising a ‘bleach-bypass’ technique that hadn’t been popular for a decade or two prior to making the film, it has a muted palette and careful compositions that never draw attention to themselves but remain attractive.
Performances are very strong too. The central pair are father and daughter in real life, so work very well together. Côté was initially dubious about using Philomène, as she had never acted before and felt using an experienced actor alongside a ‘non-actor’ could prove disastrous. Emmanuel talked him into it though and the gamble paid off. The supporting cast are very good too, particularly the aforementioned Roc LaFortune and Sophie Desmarais, who plays a young goth that Jean-Francois and Kennedy are openly attracted to.
It won’t be a film for everyone, as many would prefer a filmmaker to do the work for them and its focus on the mundane will put others off too, but I found Curling to be an odd, quiet little gem. If you can comfortably dwell in its solitude and do a bit of legwork yourself there’s much to appreciate and enjoy.
Curling is out on 13th April on (multi-region) Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Second Run. The picture and sound quality are immaculate.
A few special features are included too:
– Curling (2010) presented from a brand new HD transfer of the film, approved by the director
– New filmed interview with director Denis Côté.
– May We Sleep Soundly (Que nous nous assoupissions, 2015) – Côté’s acclaimed short film.
– Booklet featuring writing by film critic Adam Nayman and Robert McSorley, Executive Director of the Canadian Film Institute.
– Region free Blu-ray (A/B/C)
– Original soundtrack in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio & 2.0 Stereo LPCM (16-bit)
– World premiere on Blu-ray
It’s not a lot of material, but the interview with Côté is excellent. He gives an honest and inspiring discussion of the roots of his love of cinema and the beginnings of his career. He also addresses some of the issues people have with Curling and the rest of his work too, so it’s an interesting watch. The short film, ‘May We Sleep Soundly’, is very good too. Like Curling, it’s odd, minimalistic and unsettling. It’s basically just a handheld camera moving through houses where people sleep, with no music or dialogue. It’s simple but surprisingly effective.
As always, Second Run’s booklet is expertly compiled and the equal of any featurette.