By Jim Slotek
The gastronomically inclined French might refer to 9, le film, the opening night feature at the 20th Cinéfranco Festival, as a series of amuse-bouches.
That is to say, it is composed of nine short mostly comedies by the cream of current Quebec filmmaking, almost all of which leave you wanting more.
The central conceit is that one of the principals in each story is attending a seminar by a secretly panic-stricken self-help guru (Marc Gauthier), lecturing them on the emptiness of current society and an emergency call to learn to communicate.
It’s a facile framework for a coterie of talented names – including Luc Picard (Un dimanche à Kigali), Micheline Lanctot, Jean-Philippe Duval and Érik Canuel (Bon Cop Bad Cop) to indulge what largely amounts to an intriguing first act.
Best among the lot: Lanctôt’s funny and socially cringeworthy segment about a clumsy mouseburger named Mireille (Anne-Elizabeth Bosse) at a swank garden party, who runs into a “hot” old classmate Viviane (Magalie Lépine-Blondeau), who immediately senses her social unworthiness.
Incredibly, though they once traveled Europe together, and apparently bonded, Viviane claims not to remember Mireille (and, indeed, keeps calling her “Martine”). As the retold memory becomes more vivid and believable, Viviane doubles down on her amnesia. The social awkwardness rings absolutely true, kudos to Lanctot.
The opening sketch is by Stephane E. Roy, who wrote the play, 9 Variations Sur le Vide, on which the movie is loosely based. And it is also a keeper, as taut and funny a portrait of a bickering competitive couple (Christian Bégin and Anne-Marie Cadieux) as I’ve seen in any language. The dog needs food. Who will get it? My back is too bad to carry the bag. Are you sure you should take the car? The mechanic said you’ve been grinding the gears. Who’s paying for the dog food? Whose dog is it, anyway?
It’s a fitting opening (it’s followed tonight by Océane Michel’s “queer rom-com” Embrasse-moi)
to a Cinéfranco festival that has opted for a light touch as befits a serious time. The actual title for this year’s series of films at the Carlton (Friday, Oct. 6 to Thursday, Oct. 12) is Cinéfranco 2017 Rendez-Vous with Comedy and Humour.
Other highlights among the 16 feature films include thriller-filmmaker Guillaume Canet poking fun at his genre along fun at his genre alongside his wife, Marion Cotillard in Rock ‘n’ Roll (a film which will be released theatrically in Canada in December, so here’s a two-month head start).
There’s also the intriguingly-billed “anti-Love Actually” rom-com Les Ex, directed by and starring Maurice Barthélémy, and another husband-and-wife team, Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel in the ostensibly Jacques Tati-inspired physical comedy Lost In Paris (Paris pieds nus).
Complete film list and schedule are available at cinefranco.com or at the Carlton Cinema box office.