The Dismantling of a Lifetime

in 31st Torino Film Festival

by Franco La Magna

Sébastien Pilote’s bucolic family drama “The Auction” (Le démantèlement, 2013) opens on a Canadian sheep farm lovingly and calmly maintained by soft-spoken sixty-something breeder Gaby Gagnon. He works alone, with the regular help of a local boy and the friendship and solidarity of neighbours.

The almost surreal serenity that hangs over the estate is interrupted by the arrival of Gaby’s eldest daughter, Lucie, with her two children. Lucie reports that her relationship is over and that she is in need of money – a lot of money – to maintain her home. Initially Gaby doesn’t seem to react to yet another request for money from a daughter; but soon he decides to put farm, land, tools – effectively his life’s work – up for auction, in order to raise the money for his child.

In this he goes against the strong advice of his best friend. And so, after a clumsy and failed attempt to resume his relationship with his wife, and on the threshold of old age, Gaby moves into a tiny city apartment where, presumably, he will spend the rest of life.

Pilote made his feature debut with “The Salesman” (Le vendeur, 2011), which also won the FIPRESCI prize in Torino. This second film is a low-key, intimate, minimalist, touching drama, refreshingly free from pathos and with a strong, even courageous moral purpose that is not really in line with current trends in contemporary cinema.

With its themes of suffocated friendship, love broken, paternal responsibility and squalid economic interests, the film has antecedents in both King Lear and, in particular, Père Goriot, the 1834 novel by Honorè de Balzac, preserving from the novel the sublime and almost pathological affection of a father for his two daughters. In the film, the two women (especially the youngest, Frédérique, a theatre actress) do share an evident feeling for their elderly parent.

Pilote, a 40-year-old Canadian who graduated in art and cinema at the University of Quebec, has said of his film: “I wanted to tell the history of a fall that was the story of heroism – the heroism of a beautiful loser – and at the same time to build the film around a single character surrounded by a constellation of secondary figures. I wanted Gaby to meet the people close to him in succession, never together, to show how he is, in a way, a character apart.”

The director is well-served by an extraordinary performance by Gabriel Arcand, who was awarded Torino’s prize for best actor.

The family was the dominant theme of this 31st edition of the increasingly busy Torino Film Festival, a theme dealt with in 14 selected films through a variety of genres, from noir to comedy to drama. Torino is now firmly established as a major festival, one with an eclectic selection policy and a philosophy that is strictly anti-glamour.

Edited by Demetrios Matheou