A Film of Discomfort

in 46th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

by Gyözö Mátyás

Laurentie is one of the most bewildering, provoking films of our time. People will either praise or hate and reject the film, but one thing is for sure: it will leave nobody untouched. It can easily be predicted that Laurentie will stir up emotions, it will evoke harsh debates and anyway it will get probably not only into film fans’ focus of interest.

The film was made by two young Canadian directors, Mathieu L. Denis and Simon Lavoie, and it clearly seems that their ostentatious aspiration was to push the envelope in many ways. Probably this deliberate pursuit resulted in the film’s screening in the out of competiton section at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Laurentie is an extreme film with regard to the issues involved; to its principles, moral values, and the condition humaine described. It is however also extreme concerning the aesthetics it has chosen to represent all of these aspects. Laurentie was once the poetic name for Quebec; here the Laurentie of this film, where the “plot” is taking place, is a waste land, land of hopelessness. In this place there are no rich emotions, no human connections, almost no feelings, there is only the aimless, plain vegetation. This describes best the main hero of the film, Luis, who emotionally and sometimes intellectually seems to be a retard or a living zombie. It looks like as if he is not capable of normal human reactions, lacks apprehension, as if he does not know how to relate to other people. The only occupation in which he finds pleasure is watching porno films. It seems that for him sex — as mere biological action, deprived of human overtones — is a synonym for love. During two thirds of the film, Luis and his girlfriend’s connection is epitomized almost solely by their intensive sexual intercourse. Luis wants to please himself instinctively; for him the man-woman relation is reduced to sexuality.

One of the film’s most remarkable features is that the authors go to a great lenth to draw a comprehensive picture of their simple hero’s social environment. Luis is shown at his workplace where, it turns out, he does not put too much effort, and probably the sole reason to be there — the place seems to be some kind of an editing studio — is because of the sweet possibility to watch porno films. We also find his rapport with his colleagues to be very limited, as is his connection to his friends, though we are given some clues of his somewhat deeper affection for them. But at the same time we witness him dodging new relations in the excellent scene, which shows him just staring at his talkative and friendly neighbour without attempting any human response. During this scene — but mainly in the episode where he is trying, unsuccessfully of course, to make a girl’s acquaintance — his inability to communicate is mercilessly exposed. He not only lacks the appropriate language — in the symbolical sense as well — but is emotionally empty or disabled. Which explains his unmotivated emotional flaws and irrational outbursts? It is daunting to watch how, in a pub, unable to take revenge on the patrons for a rude but harmless joke, he keeps kicking the garbage cans in a frightfully relentless attempt to vent his frustration.

In short, Luis is a person who cannot control his emotions and instincts. It looks as if his perennial masturbation sessions — besides satisfying his sexual needs — are some kind of distorted self-therapy. (The narrative justification for these disturbingly brutal and explicit masturbation scenes notwithstanding, they sometimes do get over the top.) On the other hand, there is this unexpected and unique scene where three not terribly sophisticated guys are listening to classical music. As if the directors want to demonstrate that everyone could partake in the artistic nobility of such music. The aesthetic value of this scene is further increased by the radical compositional device of an almost unbearably, at least ten minutes long take, where nothing happens, and we are made to watch these three just sitting and listening. Exceptionally exciting moment, where by the unusually slow editing rhythm of the long takes, the directors have achieved a paradoxically ambivalent tension of eventlessness.

Aesthetically, the closure of Laurentie stems from the hectic mise-en-scene of the previous shots. On a narrative level, the hero’s final deed — as everything is preceding it — remains both inexplicable and logical at the same time. Thence the feeling that Laurentie describes existence as something desperately meaningless in a world, which however is awaiting for redemption. Laurentie is a thought-provoking, staggering film.