Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Films du Fleur de Lys: Jaloux

Jaloux (2010, Patrick Demers)

There are movies for which the viewer knows precisely what they shall receive by paying to see it. There are movies for which expectations are totally confounded. Then there are the more rare hybrid films, those that do indeed remain faithful to either expectations or genre conventions, yet simulate the viewer with additional layers, or take the long way around and explore different venues. By the film’s end, the audience recognizes that they go what they came for, they just didn’t expect to receive it in that type packaging. Patrick Demers’ feature film debut Jaloux, which premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (and was shot in spring of ’08, believe it or not!), refuses to succumb to all of the familiar beats of a thriller while still embracing some of its more appreciated qualities.

The story is really quite simple. Thomas (Maxime Denommée) and his partner of seven years Marianne (Sophie Cadieux) decide to head off to the country for a change of scenery and of pace. Recently their relationship has navigated through rough waters, with the boat almost capsizing during a heated argument the morning after what appeared to be a wild party the night before. Marianne is bit of a flirt, which often produces irate jealousy from Thomas. Hoping that somehow the fresh country air will freshen up whatever they have left between them, the troubled lovers head off to the cottage belonging to the man’s uncle. It is expected that his uncle’s neighbour will hand them over the keys to the building upon arrival. Once there, Thomas and Marianne notice the front door is unlocked and that somebody (Benoît Gouin) is already inside. Not knowing any better, they cheerfully assume this man is the uncle’s neighbour. Oh dear, if only they had in fact known better…

As mentioned above, Jaloux is constructed in a very specific way that tries to find the very thin line between convention and the unorthodox. Writer-director Patrick Demers at once invites the viewer to live the same strange, shiver induced weekend the young couple are having as they slowly understand that the man acting as the neighbour is nothing of the sort all the while subverting the genre in some ways. Pacing and structure play a significant role in keeping things continuously off beat. For starters, while the overall plot, that is, the trajectory of getting the two protagonists from point A to point Z, is linear, Demers reverts back to moments past at regular intervals. A first, the flashbacks concern themselves with what the viewer would not have seen otherwise, one example being Thomas phoning his uncle for permission to say at the cottage. As the film progresses, the jumps back and forth in time become more curious. Most if not all of the later flashbacks transport the viewer back to events that knowingly took place, whether hinted at or shown explicitly from different vantage points previously.  The pertinence of the flashbacks is debatable. On one level I fear that Patrick Demers, working on his first feature film, tried to stretch himself too far, tried to do too much in hopes of landing an impact that would have been felt anyhow due to the quality that permeates much of the rest of the film. I could not help but feel as though he relied too much on it.On the plus side, and perhaps this is reading too much into the film, but the thought that crossed the reviewer’s mind was that some of these jump points may represent not actual depictions of what transpired, but the mental visualizations of what happened before in the minds of Thomas and Marianne. Whether or not this is accurate is up for debate and, in the end, it is but one theory among many as to the usefulness of the flashbacks. That does not imply that on their own they mean nothing, only that they could just be a sign of a young director stretching himself too much with editing trickery. 

What does stand out for all the right reasons is the film’s pacing, controlled deliberately by Demers. Jaloux  expects its viewers to be patient. Things do need to be rushed. The countryside is gorgeous, Sophie Cadieux looks good no matter what she is wearing, the lake just beside the cottage is pleasing for swimming and rowing, the bloke acting as the neighbour is rather charming…things are going swell, except for Thomas. He had betted on a quiet weekend, an intimate affair in an effort to salvage their relationship. The other guy always seemed to intrude into their quiet moments. He does his best to give off the impression of being a fun loving chap, but something about him does not sit well with Thomas. The fact that Sophie refuses or cannot see that something is amiss frustrates Thomas even more so. The picture's unhurried cadence keeps the viewer on the edge, with Demers holding out on the moment when that proverbial crud should hit the fan. What this also does is change the nature of this ‘thriller’ movie. What might have been reduced to a run of the mill suspense film in which Marianne and Thomas flee a psycho really because a story about them fighting to preserve their love. At the start of the film the bond that held them together was relying on its final few chords. Benoît Gouin’s character acts as a catalyst for the young people to unite once more and be stronger than they ever have. In that sense, Jaloux concentrates on a two-front battle. 

Maxime Denommée as Thomas gives a solid performances, effortlessly complying to what the script asks of him (annoyed and jealous but with some fight in him). The standouts are both Sophie Cadieux and Denoît Gouin, which is unsurprising since they share a lot of screen time together. Cadieux really can play a flirt. She has a very young voice that sounds innocent but she uses it in some sexy ways. She oozes of charisma and even of a certain bashfulness (which is odd because she also clearly flirts) that makes her all the more attractive. Benoît totally owns his character. With him, it is all in the eyes, which have an uncomforting twinkle in them. He is too eager to be nice, he is too eager to go on a walk with Marianne. His act feels too innocent and Thomas knows this, but just like the stranger is attracted to Marianne, she is, temporarily a least, attracted to him. Despite being two hairs away from becoming moral enemies, the characters have great on screen chemistry. As the imposter tries less subtle ways of wooing Marianne, the latter feels a discomfort growing inside and around her. No, this man is not right, and that is when Gouin’s performance earns more points because until very late he continues to behave in a friendly manner, refusing to give in to any wild temptations (although one of the flashbacks shown later reveals that he already has…). He continues his act until finally caught by the two lovers. In interviews with the local press Demers explained his shooting script was very brief (a mere 20 pages or so), which encouraged a great deal of improvisation in the dialogue sequences, and it shows. Many of the exchanges, most of all those between Sophie Cadieux and Benoît Gouin, have an off the cuff feel about them, some even quite witty. Jaloux really is a great movie for the actors who were fortunate to be a part of it.

While not perfect, Patrick Demers’ Jaloux is aided by a freshness stemming from the very personal way with which it was directed. Its pacing makes it a more adventurous thriller than most, its structure also a more complex one. Ironically, the actual thrills do not commence until quite late in the picture, but what comes before is very intimate and worthwhile character development mixed with setup. I wish I could divulge deeper into what resonates the most with the final third, but that would entail spoiling the end. Regardless, if fortunate enough to catch Jaloux, please do.

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