FNC Oct. 18: Rengaine, Dollhouse, La Cicatrice

Interracial romance Rengaine, Irish teen improv-fest Dollhouse and Saguenay drama La cicatrice are critiqued in today’s round-up of offerings from the Festival du nouveau cinéma.



Sabrina (Sabrina Hamida) and Dorcy (Stéphane Soo Mongo) are like a lot of young couples: madly in love and mostly broke. They decide to get married, ignoring one very important fact: Dorcy is black and Christian while Sabrina is an Algerian Muslim.

Sabrina’s 40 brothers (!) are of the opinion that this is against their tradition (Dorcy’s friends and family tend to agree). Sabrina’s eldest brother Slimane (Slimane Dazi) is determined to find Dorcy (armed mostly with a tentative spelling of his name and the knowledge that he is an actor) and put an end to all of it, despite the fact that he himself has little use for tradition in his personal life.

Owing a lot to Mathieu Kassovitz’s La haine in its freewheeling, cinéma vérité approach to navigating the urban landscape, Rachid Djaidani’s Rengaine is a slight but compelling look at thorny post-millennial race relations. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Djaidani worked as a security guard on the set of Kassovitz’s film. Despite that summary, don’t go expecting Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; Rengaine is all handheld, mostly improvised and frequently hilarious, making the most of the naturalistic banter of its large (and mostly unknown) cast.

A labour of love that took Djaidani nine years to complete (the editing process alone reportedly took two), Rengaine certainly displays some of the worst excesses of the no-budget, post-Cassavetes indie drama: meandering improvised sequences, amateurish performances by non-professionals and nauseating hand-held footage abound. (If you told me this was shot entirely by people walking around with laptops running Skype strapped to their heads, I might believe you.)

Djaidani more than makes up for this with a breezy, casual approach that roots the characters in everyday life rather than some drawn-out, operatic star-crossed-lovers epic. At barely 75 minutes long, Rengaine’s smartest move is to make its point quickly and utilize its techniques concisely; what could have been navel-gazing bullshit on paper is dynamic, vivid and compelling. (AR) Excentris (3536 St-Laurent), 3 p.m.




Kirsten Sheridan (daughter of celebrated Irish director Jim) takes her place at the helm of this improv-driven tale of teenagers gone wild. A group of teen miscreants breaks into a high-crust house, where they begin partying; within minutes, it’s revealed that it’s, in fact, the home of one of the gang, the comparatively reserved Jeannie (Seána Kerslake).

Only momentarily deterred, the teens embark on a rampage of drinking, drugs and wanton destruction. But a seed of doubt has been planted, and they’re convinced that Jeannie is hiding something further from them. The arrival of next-door neighbour Robbie (Jack Reynor), a childhood friend of Jeannie’s, complicates matters even more.

The film is nicely shot and edited, with some inspired moments (in one scene, the gang literally turns Jeannie’s room upside down, nailing her furniture to the ceiling). There are strong performances from Kerslake, Reynor and Kate Brennan as the other young lady in the gang. On the male side, Johnny Ward is more of a textbook hothead, and the other two lads in the group aren’t given much to do.

More problematically, the story (as you might fairly expect from a film improvised by teenagers) is quite meandering, and when Jeannie’s secret is finally revealed, it has that deadly combination of being at once predictable and completely out of nowhere. Like many improv films, the point is more in the process than the result, and in this case the film’s main value is in seeing the promise of young actors sharpening their chops. (MF) Thursday, Oct. 18 at Excentris, 3:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 21 at Excentris, 5:20 p.m.



La cicatrice
If you had told 17-year-old me that there would be a mini-film movement born out of the region he was desperately trying to escape, I think he would’ve dismissed it outright. Director Jimmy Larouche joins Sébastien Pilote (Le vendeur) in carving out a slice of the Québécois cinema pie from the rural Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, a slice that could realistically be seen as the Quebec alternative to the films of David Gordon Green (well, before the stoner comedies) and Jeff Nichols.

Larouche’s debut, La cicatrice, has a mildly misleading title: it’s a festering wound of a film, a sharp jab of naked anger and resentment that falls in line with recent “extreme cinema” Quebec output like Les 7 jours du talion (albeit more restrained).

Told in fractured, nonlinear fashion, La cicatrice tells the story of Richard (Marc Béland), a sad-sack alcoholic separated from his wife and son and living in a dingy apartment. Through flashbacks, we learn of Richard’s childhood as the portly butt of jokes, especially at the hands of jocky Paul (played as an adult by Patrick Goyette). Paul’s father (Normand d’Amour) is constantly disappointed in his son and shows him no affection; Paul subsequently takes his frustrations out on Richard. When they fortuitously meet in a floor-hockey game years later, Richard’s resentment comes bubbling up to the surface.

Larouche uses the fractured narrative in a striking way, bouncing back and forth not in the interest of plot machinations but rather as a way to methodically peel back the characters’ layers of rage and resentment. It’s a carefully measured and constructed character study, but it does have a fundamental flaw: the final emotional reveal is surprisingly flimsy and can’t carry the emotional weight of the movie. It’s so carefully mounted that one expects the film to build to a real gut-punch ending but, without wanting to reveal too much, it’s all a little after-school-special in the end.

Larouche proves to be a gifted visual stylist with a singular style (this may be the most impressive debut film by a Quebec director since Stéphane Lafleur’s Continental: un film sans fusil) and the performances (especially Béland’s) are uniformly excellent; it’s just a damn shame that the whole thing builds up to such an unaffecting conclusion. (AR) Tonight at Excentris (3536 St-Laurent), 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 19 at Quartier Latin (350 Emery), 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 20 at PHI Centre (407 St-Pierre), 3 p.m.


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