This is a continuation of some of the films that were showcased at Toronto International Film Fesitval’s annual top ten of Canadian Content: #seethenorth.
While I struggled to see the merit in Patricia Rozema’s Into the Forest, Philippe Lesage’s Les Demons is, in a word, exceptional. Undoubtedly Canadian, the film is complex, nostalgic, quirky, funny and simultaneously tragic. The film follows Felix, a young boy on the brink of adolescence, who comes to understand the emotion that plagues so many adults: fear.
Les Demons is the first (completed) feature film by Lesage, and as such is a tremendous accomplishment. We can see Lesage’s work history as a documentarian influence the film in that one of the strongest features of the film is the camera-work and cinematography. The film evokes constant use of the deep-focus long-shot: in which the camera slowly zooms-in on something on screen while never having any of the shot go in or out of focus. It is a beautiful technique that fits the lackadaisical pace of the film.
The film focuses on main character Felix, but also those immediately around him: His family and their friends, his friends and their problems, his teachers and other authority figures. All of the characters, however long they are presented on-screen are adequately rounded, dynamic and complex – a very difficult feat to reach, but one Lesage accomplishes admirably and thus a feature of his film-making I look forward to seeing more of in the future.
My one critique of the film, however, is the story-arc involving the life-guard from the neighborhood pool. While it’s a necessary and poignant plot-line, at times it feels too disconnected from Felix’s world, in that these are scenes that are not facilitated by Felix directly, and as such feel strangely added-on at times. It’s a shame because these scenes could have been integrated more smoothly into the narrative without coming across as disruptive to Felix’s story.
As previously mentioned the film revolves around the emotion of fear: fear riddles Felix but also every character in the film to some degree: Fear of rejection, of punishment, of heartache, etc. all the fear is being gazed upon by Felix who quietly acknowledges and reacts to it all. There are some very real fears in the film, a possible pederast and kidnapper, but mostly it is the emotional fears that are at play, fear of the family breaking apart, fear of abandonment and so on. By employing a dark, ominous classical score, the music in the film is also an excellent accompaniment to help instil a constant stream of dread while never fully giving way to full-blown misery.
Fear is the driving movement in the film, yet, the film has surprising and touching moments of relief when the pain is somehow rectified by points of happiness and joy. This makes the film much more even-handed and relatable, in that, while youth can be a scary time, there are still junctures of joy and safety.
For a movie entitled The Demons I was expecting an all-out Canadian fare: depressing, and everyone dies at the end. And while there is most certainly a tragic and horrifying few scenes in the film, mixed with the light-hearted moments I mentioned previously, it is a much easier film to digest than other French-Canadian, suburban-Montreal studies of coming-of-age, such as the beautiful but emotionally gut-wrenching Canadian-classic Leolo (Lauzon, 1992). That being said it also appears to me that while tragedy seems to be on it’s way out, the other distinctive attribute of Canadian cinema, “weird sex”, does not seem to be a defining narrative for many of these newer Canadian films anymore. Felix beginning to discover his sexuality is briefly covered in the film, but not dwelled upon, and certainly not as disturbing as when touched on in other films like, again, Leolo.
Based on the few movies I saw for the festival, I think new-Canadian movies are moving away from the depressing. While not abandoning it completely, it seems that sad-moments and pure anguish are no longer the conclusion to a film, but rather a plot point the characters move around, and try to survive against, hopefully, coming out stronger in the end. Despite tragedy, there is still joy, despite fear, there is still hope, making this new era of Canadian cinema much more accessible.