If there is a weird Canadian film of 2018, LE GRANDE NOIRCEUR must surely be the one. Writer/director Maxine Giroux’s last film was Félix et Meira — which won the Best Canadian Feature at TIFF in 2014, but the two films are worlds apart. LE GRANDE NOIRCEUR makes no sense at all, in setting, theme, structure, but it is this weirdness that makes Giroux’s film so fascinating. And frustrating. The film feels like a Kafka horror movie.
The setting could be the dystopian future, or during the World War II or even World War 1. The film hints of the Trump-era where things are about or already gone to shit. Still there is the General Patton’s famous speech heard on the radio at one point in the film. “No bastard ever won the war by dying for his country He won the war by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” There is the unseen fascistic leader eerily conjuring the idea of “the other” currently playing out in the real world.
The film’s protagonist is Philippe (Martin Dubreuil), a would-be Québécois actor. When the film opens, the audience see him dressed as Charlie Chaplin amidst a sea of other Chaplin impersonators. Apparently, Philippe wins this contest and the money. It is also revealed that Philippe has dogged the draft and escaped from Montreal to an unnamed southwestern American state. He is robbed, stuck there and forced to deal with crushing poverty, a collapsing moral order, and persecution, all sparked by an ongoing, vaguely outlined war and the odious ethics of an unseen leader whose rants over the radio touting success at all costs. Yet all around him, Philippe only sees abject squalor and a fearsome propaganda machine recalling 1930s-era Germany.
This is Philippe’s horror road trip. Philippe meets an aloof, proud woman (Sarah Gadon) who lives in a cave/abandoned basement. She introduces another girl as her dog. Philippe also meets a nasty ringmaster (played by French actor Romain Duris) who tortures the weak to force them to become informants. Already an outsider because of his (French/Quebecois) accent, Philippe jumps from the frying pan into the fire.
Giroux’s film is filled with surprises or rather shocks. His film gets really nasty at times. The girl dog gets her tongue cut out by her mistress at one point. Philippe is covered in mud shoulder down and tortured with his face dunked in the mud. These are not pretty sights and hard for audiences to stomach. One also wonders of the purpose of all this surrealistic horror. At times, nothing makes any sense.
Near the end, Philippe wakes up from all the hour and finds himself in the midst of a desert. He meets a Lucky Strike cigarette salesman with his briefcase full of Lucky Strike packages. The encounter is weird and occasionally homo-erotic,
See THE GREAT DARKENED DAYS if you dare! The film guarantees a really dark experience!