Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Film review: The Girl in the White Coat

Writer/Director: Darrell Wasyk
Producer: Michel Ouellette, Darrell Wasyk
Cast: Pascale Montpetit, Joey Klein, Monique Mercure, Louise Marleau, Paul Savoie, Julien Poulin
Gritty Indie Drama
1 hours, 53 minutes
English and French with subtitles

Back in 1990, Darrell Wasyk made H his startling debut about two heroin junkies that earned its star Pascale Montpetit a Genie Award for Best Actress. He then made Mustard Bath in 1993 before moving on to television, painting and theatre.

After a long absence, he has returned to the big screen and reunited with Montpetit. The Girl in the White Coat is an adaptation of sorts based on the short story Шинель (The Overcoat) by Nikolai Gogol. But you needn't know anything about it beforehand. Gogol's story of a poor Russian bureaucrat is merely used as the jumping-off point for Wasyk who re-imagines and reinvents it in Montreal with a female protagonist.

Elise (Montpetit) works at a paper factory to pay for her father's care in a nursing home. Her co-workers taunt her for her shabby winter coat but repairing it would cost more than she can afford. Although she is a decent person, most of the people she comes across aren't as kind. Even when some have good intentions, things don't always work out for her.

All the while, Montreal's harsh wintry bleakness is felt. Wasyk uses many stark and unglamourous settings to underline her struggles. He does a good job of capturing a neorealist aesthetic and the authenticity of bilingual Montreal.

He occasionally allows his story and the actors to stray towards the melodramatic. While Montpetit is excellent as Elise, some of the supporting actors have moments of theatricality that work against the realism. Perhaps his theatre work influenced his approach to some degree, where actors have to play to the whole house. Movies that are on a big screen and have close-ups not only allow for restraint but demand it.

Nonetheless, there is a whole lot to like about The Girl in the White Coat. Wasyk's return to filmmaking is most welcome. Let's hope we don't have to wait another two decades for his next work.

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