I watched “Waydowntown” last evening, between bouts of grading, which came upon me like the ague. Luckily, the film was funny, often clever, even well-shot. I write about it mostly to offer up a flick maybe you hadn’t heard of that’s worth a look-see; hell, I don’t even know how I heard about it. And then a word or two about Canadian film.
The plot: Office workers, young, full of either ennui or vinegary idealism or both. The narrator–our hero–often slips into surreal flights of fancy. There’s a few flashy camera tricks. Despite all that, the film is funny, understated. My favorite bits involve one worker’s increasing claustrophobia, and her attempts to find refreshment through magazine cologne ads. (The central conceit, as much of a plot as there is, is a bet between 4 workers about staying inside the connected tunnels of the downtown area for as long as possible.) I’m hesitant to say too much–it’s pleasures are limited but worthy. One of those small independent films that actually seems to be independent of trends, hipster style, flashy attempts to break out of the indie ghetto. Instead, it’s pretty comfortable about being the slight, subtle, focused character study it is.
And this gets me to Canadian film. I actually took a course as an undergrad in Canadian film, and we circled ’round notions of how a national culture shapes a visual and narrative aesthetic…. and that’s the last time I ever heard about a Canadian cultural aesthetic outside of the Mackenzie brothers, Margaret Atwood sniping in some review, and Conan O’Brien poking fun.
But there does potentially seem like there’s a there there; “Waydowntown” had a supporting role by Don McKellar, who has apparently received a Canadian Film Board grant obligating all Canuck filmmakers (even the resentful Quebecois) to put him in the movie, and McKellar has made two great little films that I know of: “Highway 61” and “Last Night.” The style of comedy isn’t as broad or incisive as SCTV… but it’s distinctively about three feet off-center, and it always takes me thirty minutes into one of his (or these) films to get the hang of the jokes.
I don’t know where I’m going here, except to ask: anyone got any great Canadian film suggestions? Anyone got any theses about Can. film? (I had/have one about Cronenberg’s horrific view of bodies disrupted from within as a sly metaphor about American culture, but my undergrad prof hated Cronenberg and constantly tried to get me to shut up.)
Denys Arcand, yeah yeah–sure. Bring him up too if you want. (And there’s this great Quebecois film I saw called “Pouvoir Intime” that was a great damn heist film, one of the finest I’ve seen–at least in my rosy memory–but I have never found it on vhs or dvd.)