A Montreal hospital is hell on Earth in Ville-Marie

Guy Édoin’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2011 debut Marécages draws us into a medical misery hole.

Aliocha Schneider and Monica Bellucci in Ville-Marie
Guy Édoin’s Marécages made quite a bit of a splash upon its release in 2011. It was praised as a startling debut from a new filmmaker the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Xavier Dolan (which was, like, three years earlier). I wasn’t as impressed as most — while Édoin’s style was impressive and the film held up to an admirably constant level of intensity, he tended to lean extra-hard on misery, melodrama and shock value. In Marécages, bad news wasn’t enough: it had to be followed up by even worse news, perhaps a slap upside the head and a dead cow. This is a fairly common occurrence in first films and I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until his next film was released.

Ville-Marie is an ensemble film focused around the (fictional) hospital of the same name. If there’s one setting that would almost certainly appeal to Édoin’s baroquely melodramatic style, it’s a place where people routinely die in tragic ways.

Thomas (Aliocha Schneider) is on the way to pick up his movie star mother (Monica Bellucci) at the hospital. A woman at the bus stop asks for his help, hands him her baby and steps into traffic. The ambulance drivers (Patrick Hivon and Louis Champagne) are a mismatched Abbott and Costello of misery: one’s a PTSD-afflicted, pill-popping war vet and the other an overweight, sleep-deprived lout with a sick child at home. Marie (Pascale Bussières), the emergency room’s supervisor, has seen her life go into a tailspin after the death of her husband and her child. Her oldest son refuses to speak to her, and she lives in the most depressing movie apartment ever captured on film. Shaken from the incident at the bus stop and a recent break-up, Thomas decides to pressure his mother into telling him who his mysterious father is as her husband (Frédéric Gilles) makes a melodramatic, autobiographical feature about her life.

Édoin leaves no stone unturned: rape, incest, PTSD, drug abuse, alcoholism, dead children, gay sex, dead babies, heart malformations and the poor state of Montreal’s roads (!) are all plot points in this opera of misery. Like Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu — the Bob Guccione of misery — Édoin seems patently incapable of letting characters breathe without infusing them with additional drama. Some dialogue scenes turn into misery competitions, with characters one-upping each other with the most depressing backstories. It becomes increasingly difficult as the film progresses to feel anything but a generalized sense of gloom.

None of this is accidental, of course. Édoin’s style tends towards the baroque. He makes frequent use of classical music, of extremely tight framing, of deliberately and unnaturally spare mise-en-scène; in other words, heightened melodrama is his thing. He may borrow liberally from people like Almodovar and Cassavetes, but he lacks the former’s sense of humour and camp and the latter’s emotional nakedness. There are a few scenes in Ville-Marie that work beautifully both within the framework of the film and outside of it: the opening scene is brutal and beautiful, and a scene later on in the film where Bellucci sings “Can’t Help Falling in Love” has an undeniable power, but they’re stuck in a film that turns all emotion up to 11 all the time. 
Ville-Marie opens in theatres on Friday, Oct. 9. Watch the trailer here: