Sunday, September 11, 2005

Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnes


With all the X-Files style shows shot in Canada, it is strange that only Vincenzo Natali is making attempts at slick and moody head-trip science fiction on the feature film level. Enter Robin Aubert, French Canadian actor turned director. This is his first feature and it will never be used as by the Quebec Tourism Bureau to drum up business for small town Quebec. The town of Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés draws easy comparisons to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. That Aubert is a fan is more than obvious, except here, the locals are even more withdrawn, angsty and antisocial.

Flavien Juste is an orphan who has grown up into Weekly World News styled tabloid reporter. He is sent by his editor-slash-adopted father to investigate a small town in Nothern Quebec. The town has an abnormally high number of missing persons, with the supernatural being the expected cause. He is sent with a companion, his best friend and the publications photographer, to bring back a whopper of a story with the goal of restoring some class and funds the ailing publication.

It takes less than 1 hour in town before they encounter an abandoned and creepy gas-station, a lodge run by two extremely odd twin sisters (who share the same name), a steakhouse in which the owner serves the customers in lingerie and an effective jump scare or two in the form of a ethereal corpse bride. Oh and the photographer along with the car go missing too. Flavien’s only hope of figuring things out, and not being assaulted or arrested, lie either in a young man with Downs Syndrome or an attractive young woman who appears to be at odds with the rest of the towns folk and has the odd haibt of taking baths in a tub perched in the middle of the rapids of a small creek.

Where Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés is really strong in its striking visuals and sumptuous set-design, it is often lacking in narrative flow. Think an MTV styled Alejandro Jodorowsky and you are on the right track. The town is a cornucopia of bizarre inhabitants, most of them menacing and unfriendly. The acting is solid across the board, with the exception of a duo of 1950s dressed street thugs, which are played more for comic relief than menace (or it could just be bad subtitling). Then there are subjective cut-aways to the strange factory and creepy goings on, which are more convoluted than mysterious. The film is wrapped up somewhat with a final set of revelations which attempt to put humpty dumpty back together, but by then, I was pretty exhausted with the poor narrative flow and sprawling story. There are some great ideas regarding individual identity, the flesh, the spirit and human connection, but it just doesn’t come together in a compelling enough package to warrant a full recommendation. I can’t fault it for being an ambitious first feature and will be looking forward to anything else Aubert has a hand in.

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