Thursday, April 28, 2011

Film Review: The High Cost of Living

Writer/Director: Deborah Chow
Producer: Kimberley Berlin and Susan Schneir
Cast: Zach Braff, Isabelle Blais, Patrick Labbé, Aimee Lee, Julian Lo, Sean Lu
Redemption Drama
English, French and Chinese with English subtitles
1 hour, 32 minutes

Montreal filmmaker Jacob Tierney (The Trotsky) sparked a controversy last year when he pointed out that Quebec cinema was too white-bread and ignored Anglos and immigrants. People got upset but he was right on the money. In an impressive debut feature film by Deborah Chow, however, we finally get a rounded depiction of the true multicultural, multilingual nature of urban Canada.

Set in downtown Montreal, The High Cost of Living brings together Nathalie Beauchamp (Isabelle Blais), pregnant and caught in a loveless marriage to Michel (Patrick Labbé), and an American drug dealer Henry Welles (Zach Braff) living in Chinatown. One night, when Henry goes the wrong way down the street while hurrying to get to a deal, he strikes Nathalie and flees in panic. But he is guilt-ridden and asks his landlords' son Johnny (Julian Lo) to check in on her and slowly gets drawn into her world.

Though perhaps a few moments seemed a little off, the film works well in capturing the sense of people who are lost and trying to find their way together. The cultural and language differences serve to underline their difficulties and obstacles as well as making it more authentic. Braff and Blais do excellent work in realizing their respective characters. Braff scruffies himself up nicely and shows us something quite different from his Scrubs days. And Julian Lo as the son Johnny is a real find. One hopes we get to see much more of him.

This film reminded me somewhat of another early film by a Quebec filmmaker, Maelström by Denis Villeneuve. It stands on its own but also points to greater things ahead.

The High Cost of Living was the deserving winner of the SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. It was also selected by TIFF as one of Canada's Top 10 films, won the Super Écran award for Best Screenplay for 1st or 2nd feature at the Rendez-vous du Cinéma Québécois 2011, and was named Best Canadian Film at Female Eye Film Festival 2011.

You can read my interview with writer/director Deborah Chow here.

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