Written by François Delisle
Directed by François Delisle
Narration is one of the great issues of contention amongst movie goers, movie buffs and especially film critics. When is it utilized in the right manner to convey ideas and plot points not visualized on screen and when it is redundant and uninspired? Far more people than one might imagine fall into the category of those who would wish narration away if they could. It therefore begs the question of what those same people would think of a film which was entirely dependent on narration, not just because it revealed crucial plot points or was a significant presence among other methods of communicating information, but because all of the film’s dialogue, without exception, was transmitted to the audience via off screen narration.
In François Delisle’s latest project, Le météore, there is not a single character who talks on screen. All thoughts, stories and emotions are related by the actors who recorded their dialogue in studio. In the film, Pierre (François Papineau) is a forty-something man incarcerated for a hit and run which resulted in the death of a cyclist. To make matters worse, he had been driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol after a night of partying. His former lover, Suzanne (Dominique Leduc) reminisces about their strange 9 year relationship, which felt more like three extended episodes of getting together, breaking up and finally intermittent meetups. Pierre’s mother (Andrée Lachapelle) recounts her memories of Pierre as a child and ruminates on her current lonely life. A guard at the prison (Laurent Lucas) shares his thoughts on his job and how it affects his family life and Max (Pierre-Luc Lafontaine) is a young drug dealer looking for a big score who is also eventually arrested.
Let there be no doubt about where Le météore stands as a piece of cinema. This is experimental, art house filmmaking through and through. The challenges of, first, having the story’s characters barely appear on screen and, second, only communicate their sentiments via nondiagetic voice over, are not to be underestimated. Naturally films are reliant on telling their stories visually with the assistance of sound. People go to watch films, they rarely go to listen to them. François Delisle deliberately attempts to circumvent that tradition and therefore send a challenge to the audience to try and feel what the characters are feeling even though they are only so rarely depicted on screen. Visually, the film is predominantly reliant on images of what the characters are talking about, where they tend to go and even from the perspective of how they go about traveling, such as looking out of the window of a taxi on a cloudy, dreary early spring day. On a few occasions the images will adopt a more metaphorical role, presenting images which at first do not have anything to do with what a given narrator is talking about, although images can famously speak a thousand words, thus inviting interpretations of the symbolism.
Delisle’s approach might even have some recall the style of American auteur Terence Malick, often praised (and mocked) for having his actors whisper dialogue as the film presents a series of beautiful images whose association with the spoken words can occasionally be tenuous. The Québec filmmaker takes at least a few cues of the Malick playbook of storytelling, and while his collection of images will arguably not have jaws dropping, there are some impressively artistic moments throughout the film, including a sequence when the camera focuses on what looks to be a fox relaxing in a forest and another much later when the audience is presented with blasts of lighting erupting behind some nighttime clouds. Many of the visuals strike the perfect mood for the overall film. The subject matter is rather bleak overall, with moments of levity far and few between. Even a scene featuring a brilliant sunset, which from a purely visual standpoint is beautiful, has a somber air about it. Light turns to dark as all these people who know each other either intimately or otherwise face a new, darker chapter in their lives. The arrangement of the visuals is commendable on the whole although lacks some sense of consistency. It is difficult to decipher just why is it the director chooses to show the characters when he does, why he presents an image directly related to their personal stories when he does and when he opts for more metaphorical tactics when he does.
The film’s narration succeeds primarily in how it concentrates on details that movies with more traditional narratives often overlook. The importance of what day a person chooses to drive herself to prison to visit a loved one and what day she chooses to take a cab ride. The journey of one inmate from a two person cell to a single person cell. The influence of a prison guard’s day job on how he disciplines his young children and how that, in turn, affects his marriage. The dreams a woman has when her former lover is convicted of murder. Ideas like these are rarely explored in movies. They are rarely what is required to develop characters in a film, but this is no ordinary film of course. That said, even the more adventurous film buffs might have trouble remaining interested for the entire running length. Despite admirable qualities, Le météore does feel a bit slow and the pacing never picks up. From start to finish the viewer is served internal monologue after internal monologue accompanied by a series of images. An interesting experience to be sure, just do not expect anything especially thrilling.
Festivals like the Rendez-vous du Cinéma Québécois are the perfect platform form for young and seasoned home grown talent to express themselves in ways that do not always match with those of the more mainstream films that permeate the multiplex landscape. The event easily takes on a very idiosyncratic approach to the art of film, not only because it concentrates its efforts on highlighting new projects exclusively from La Belle Province but also for how experimental movies which art house film lovers devour are showcased with great pride. Le mététore is unquestionably one such film, the sort of endeavour that will leave most puzzled, bored even, but that should warm the hearts of the more serious minded cinephiles, despite the dour subject matter.