A Silent Cry from Quebec

in 29th Torino Film Festival

by Piero Spila

The Salesman (Le vendeur, Canada 2011), Sébastien Pilote’s debut and Fipresci Prize winner at the 29th Torino Film Festival, is a film that deliberately talks “softly”, with a minimalist style but also wise, with little dialogue and situations as a ritual are repeated (the frozen snow removed from the streets and windshields of cars every morning, the daily meetings and greetings, the business meetings). But it is also a very ambitious film because, by telling a small common story in a delimited geographical area (Quebec), it strikes at the heart of an issue of our time: globalization and its tragic consequences, collective and individual. Marcel, the protagonist of the film, is an old car salesman, so busy working that he seems not to notice what is happening around him (a factory fails, the gas station which he normally supplies suddenly closes, a customer is unable to pay the installments on his car). For all his life Marcel has always sold cars, he knows how to sell cars and wants to continue to sell cars. He thinks he can save himself in this way, with his work, his talent, respecting the ‘system’ that he knows. But of course it does not end well. Fate knocks on his door, a blow that will reveal fully its vulnerability, an inevitable condition, that no one can escape alone.

The theme of vulnerability this time with the appearance of disease and pain, has influenced many of the films in competition in Turin. The film 50/50 (USA, 2011) by Jonathan Levine tells with the light tone of comedy the story of a brilliant and talented 27-year-old man who suddenly discovers he is suffering from a disease that is sometimes terminal (a 50-50 chance). He fights, but he sees around him suffering and death.

In Heart’s Boomerang (Serdca Bumerang) Russia, 2011) by Nikolay Khomeriki, a driver on the Moscow subway discovers, during a check-up, that he has a severe malformation of the heart. He’s fine but can die at any moment. The difference is that before the visit he did not know. In Way Home (Vergiss dein Ende) Germany, 2011) by Andreas Kannengiesser, young and old people have to face the problem of a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s, and fighting this problem they reconsider all the values of their lives.

The same theme returns especially in the interesting feature film debut of Mateo Zoni, Ulidi piccola mia (Italy, 2011), a movie in (and not about) the disease. It’s a documentary film, tight and without complacency, shot in a nursing home, starring three young girls who, between suffering and desire to escape, seek an escape from their discomfort. A film about pain, but also with sensitivity and solidarity, values that, in light of certain problems, there seems to be even more outrageous and scandalous feelings.

From the Canadian to the Russian film, from the American to the Italian film, we are always within the realms of human comedy that, with the cinema, tries to bring to light the less reassuring aspects of daily living.