Two tales of sur­vival, both grim down­ers

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

IF Cana­dian movies have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing dour and down­beat, the two open­ing this week are not go­ing to do any­thing to re­v­erse that im­pres­sion. The Dis­ap­peared and White­wash are movies that touch on com­mon Canuck themes — sur­vival, mas­culin­ity, mad­ness — shot with a max­i­mum of min­i­mal­ism. Both de­pict bat­tles against the el­e­ments. Both in­clude at least one at­tempted sui­cide. Both fea­ture some­what rec­og­niz­able Amer­i­can ac­tors in the fore­ground. Both end on a note of am­bi­gu­ity. One needn’t ex­pect sell­out crowds for ei­ther. The Que­bec-made White­wash is the more in­ter­est­ing of the two. It’s be­ing billed as a story of sur­vival and re­demp­tion, but the film’s most re­demp­tive act is a good deed for which its hero is re­lent­lessly pun­ished. Thomas Haden Church ( Side­ways) is Bruce, a snow­plow op­er­a­tor liv­ing a bit­ter ex­is­tence in a re­mote com­mu­nity in ru­ral Que­bec. In the chrono­log­i­cally frac­tured nar­ra­tive, it emerges that he is a wid­ower who has hit the bot­tle to cope with the death of his wife. In a mar­ket park­ing lot, he comes upon Paul (Marc Le­bréche), an even more des­per­ate char­ac­ter at­tempt­ing to kill him­self. Bruce in­ter­venes and tries to be­friend Paul, a de­gen­er­ate gam­bler whose debts — mon­e­tary or eth­i­cal — are be­yond his reach. It turns out Paul is not wor­thy of the life-sav­ing ges­ture. Their re­la­tion­ship con­cludes with Bruce on the run from the au­thor­i­ties, tak­ing refuge in his snow­plow, stuck deep in the snowy Que­bec woods. Di­rec­tor Emanuel Hoss-Des­marais, mak­ing his fea­ture de­but, gets thes­pian bang for (pre­sum­ably) limited bucks from Church, an ac­tor whose pen­chant for hang­dog lon­ers gets taken to a new level with a con­sis­tently com­pelling por­trait of iso­la­tion taken to its limit. The Dis­ap­peared is a more fa­mil­iar tale of sur­vival on the sea. It’s set en­tirely on open wa­ter in the At­lantic, where six crew mem­bers of a sunken fish­ing ves­sel at­tempt to make their way home, pad­dling more than 300 kilo­me­tres in a cou­ple of leaky dories. The Amer­i­can in this oth­er­wise Cana­dian cast is Billy Camp­bell ( Once and Again, The Killing) as Man­nie, a first mate whose wounded arm prom­ises lots of juicy dramatic fire­works.

In this stress­ful sit­u­a­tion, frac­tures emerge be­tween the ship’s crusty skip­per (Brian Downey) and the re­bel­lious crew­man Pete (Shawn Doyle), be­tween a bit­ter fa­ther (Gary Lev­ert) and his in­ex­pe­ri­enced son (Neil Mathe­son), and be­tween the wounded Man­nie and ev­ery­one else. Writ­ten and di­rected by an­other fea­ture new­comer — Ed­mon­ton-born Shandi Mitchell — The Dis­ap­peared was un­lucky to be re­leased in the same prox­im­ity as All Is Lost, a more ac­com­plished movie that demon­strates it is pos­si­ble to build dramatic ten­sion with prac­ti­cally no di­a­logue and no sup­port­ing cast. Even so, this is a fairly ac­com­plished first fea­ture, shot on lo­ca­tion un­der pre­sum­ably ar­du­ous cir­cum­stances; Mitchell has a sure hand at the rud­der, even if her nar­ra­tive ves­sel is as rough­hewn and leaky as its dories.

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