Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Must-See: Denis Côté’s Boris sans Béatrice

Illness strikes, and the world changes. Boris, even more alone than the teenagers in It Follows, is a rich factory owner who retreats from his public life to move to the Québécois countryside to take care of his sick wife, a former cabinet member to the prime minister (Bruce LaBruce), whose suffering from depression and other illnesses and no longer speaks. It’s clear that Boris has hubris problems (getting into fights with cashiers, local politicians, his own daughter and almost everyone else), and after receiving a mysterious letter, he meets with this mysterious figure (Denis Lavant) who confronts him to change his lifestyle. Boris sans Béatrice brings together many themes and images from Denis Côté’s repertoire of motifs, though now they are evolved and refined: an isolated cottage and outsider characters, fraught father-daughter relations, an underlying violence that edges towards the horror genre, a reflection on the arts, a multi-lingual and sophisticated use of language, and very precise camerawork and compelling music. Where Vic + Flo ont vu un ours ended on such a bleak-note (the murder of the two main characters, and it’s also worth mentioning the idiosyncratic pleasure of all of Côté’s character names), here the fate of Boris seems more optimistic, in terms of trying to change, loving his wife and opening up to the world. Boris is the most upper-class, bourgeois character in Côté’s body of work, and through him, the director is experimenting, trying to explore new territory: psychological, social and affective. The scenes of Boris being with his younger lovers or that of grieving and regretting his previous self recalls similar ones in the films by another Québécois director, Jean-Marc Vallée (Café de flore, Demolition). The glimpses of sunlit, euphoric flashbacks with Boris and Béatrice are a bright reminder of the pleasures available when one opens oneself up to others and to love, and points towards the direction of Boris’ fate. Boris sans Béatrice is Côté’s best film. All of the actors are great – underplayed, gestural, and affective – and especially its four main leads James Hyndman, Simone-Élise Girard, Isolda Dychauk and Laetitia Isambert-Denis. Since its earlier behind-the-scenes production photographs and the eventual ones from its Berlin premiere, there has been a lot of mystique and anticipation surrounding Boris sans Béatrice. It exceeds any expectation and pleasurably surprises: Côté blends the réel with an imagination to best present his story. The strategy of the quick turn-around of the film from its premiere to its theatrical run (where in local interviews he even promotes the Toronto filmmaking scene, particulary the work of Kazik Radwanski) offers a great model for independent directors in Canada: first off, make efficient and ambitious work that matters to you and engages with the world; get it out there onto screens, festival ones and domestic theaters, to have people to actually see it, and finally, (as Boris would come to learn) stay humble and also think about others.

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