Written by Gabriel Sabourin
Directed by Daniel Grou
Daniel Grou (affectionately known as Podz by the Quebec public) got his start in television, directing a number of very successful shows for Radio-Canada, the national channel. In 2010 he made his cinematic debut with two films and has since been working exclusively for the big screen. His most recent film, Miraculum, finds it’s aesthetic routes in television though, often feeling more like a creaky pilot than a full fledged film. While Podz and his actors give it their all in this film, they are let down by the script which is trite, obvious and poorly constructed.
Films about intersecting fates rarely gel very well. For every Magnolia (which is flawed, but doesn’t collapse under the weight of it’s own hubris) there are dozens of copycat films that are varying degrees of unbearable. The narrative just never comes together, as too much of the film leaves too many questions as to what is connecting these characters (and ultimately, the revelation feels superficial rather than having deeper thematic meaning). The film covers a wide range of moral questions related to crime, incest, religion and sex but the tenuous nature of the whole affair renders these controversial topics mild and uninteresting.
The quality of the writing is telling when the film’s best performance, brought to the screen by Anne Dorval, still feels arbitrary to the bigger picture. Her character in the film feels almost nonsensical, as she has such an unclear character trajectory and seems to be dropped in the end without truly tying up any ends. Yet, in a testament to Dorval’s talents that whenever she appears in Miraculum, the film begins to feel that good kind of dangerous, before quickly fading back into mediocrity and safety. While Dorval is the stand out of the film, there are many other actors giving it their all with very little pay-off.
It’s hard to say, for example, if Xavier Dolan as Étienne has given a better performance than he does here. While somewhat secondary in terms of presence, Dolan’s charisma manages to weigh on the film. Faced with a fatal, debilitating secret Dolan convincely evades questions of his character’s health with muted pride and endearingly awkward charm. The writing, though, mistreats this performance (and several others as well) by robbing the audience of a moment of difficulty or cathartic, relegating powerful opportunities offscreen and treated with only in passing.
In spite of the vapidity of the narrative though, the film does look good. Podz is a master at perspective and focus, utilizing framing and blocking in order to refocus attention of a scene. There are few filmmakers working today who utilize as powerfully widescreen aesthetics, and who manipulate the impact of geometry in construction of power as much as he does. These flourishes can sometimes make you forget the lack of focus in the writing, in particular because his style emphasizes rather than detracts from performances. While we sometimes talk about actors directors in a derogatory way, for all the film’s flaws, Podz helped make all the actors look their very best while on screen. There is a sincere intimacy and warmth to the way he shoots his actors, and in spite of all it’s flaws, the actors all come away looking aces.
For all the great films coming out of Quebec in the past few years, many of them directed by Podz, Miraculum unfortunately doesn’t make the cut. Obvious, forgettable and saccharine, the film fails to live up to the talent of those involved.