Film reviews this month

Stunt People

Directed by Lois Siegel (Canada, 1995)

Reviewed by
Lois Siegel

Stunt People features four generations of the Fournier family smashing cars, catching fire and falling off buildings for the fun of it. Their passion is action and adventure.

When I first came to Montreal, I heard about the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). I met Bob Verrall there and he showed me the theatre where films were mixed with sound. I already knew this is what I wanted to do; I wanted to make films. I had made my first two short films as a student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio: Spectrum in White, an unusual film of colour transformations and optical illusions, and Paralysis, created by directly filming images produced on an oscilloscope attached to a computer. These films were presented at the First and Second International Festival of Women’s Films in New York and at The Whitney Museum’s New American Filmmakers Series. I was hooked.

I moved to Montreal in the early 1970s. In 1974, the NFB established Studio D, the first publicly funded feminist film-production unit in the world. About half of the studio’s films were to be directed by independent women filmmakers. I was called to be trained as a camera operator along with three other women from across Canada: Susan Gabori, Joan Hutton and Susan Trow.

This was terrific. I remember my first job in 1975, going to Sackville, New Brunswick to be a second assistant camera on The Mad Canadian, a 10-minute film directed by Robert Fortier that featured stuntman Ken Carter. Carter drove his stock car on a racing track and then off a ramp over a line of parked cars.

I continued working on films as an assistant camera operator. In 1978, I finally directed my first film, Stunt Family, a three-minute vignette for television on the Fournier family. For four generations, the Fourniers performed stunts in more than 100 feature films. My film shows them in action: car rolls, crashes, explosions. nfb.ca/film/canada_vignettes_stunt_family/

I completed several films through “Aid to Private Sector,” a government grant program. Years later, in 1989, I decided to do the longer 47- minute film about the Fourniers. You can see Stunt People here: siegelproductions.ca/lois/stuntpeople.htm.

In 1990, I won a Genie Award for Stunt People. I was the first filmmaker to win this award through “Aid to Private Sector” at the film board. For many years, I continued working at the NFB in various capacities.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

La Fille au Bracelet

Directed by Stéphane Demoustier (France, 2019)

Reviewed by
Paul Green

The opening sequence of this film is telling. As the camera observes from a discreet height, the outing of a French family on the beach is interrupted by the arrival of gendarmes who proceed to arrest 16-year-old Lise Bataille. The viewer watches from a distance as she is led away and one already senses that she is isolated –isolated because we are not vested in this character and are consequently free to speculate on what she may or may not have done.

The bracelet in the title is not an item of jewellery but rather an ankle bracelet of the sort worn by those under house arrest while awaiting trial. The Girl with a Bracelet is a courtroom drama; it is also an effective portrait of a “normal” middle-class family under stress, a stress heightened by the fact that members of the family have a hard time communicating with each other at the best of times.

The film is based on an Argentinian film called Acusada. With its sparse dialogue, it also seems to borrow from Georges Simenon, the noted French author of psychological detective novels. Lise has been charged in connection with the murder of her best friend Flora, a murder said to have occurred not long after a somewhat raucous party at Flora’s house after which Lise slept with Flora in her bed.

The trial scenes are shot with a kind of static efficiency and it is in this spirit that Anaïs Demoustier delivers a no-nonsense performance as the state prosecutor who is all business. Demoustier is the director’s sister and a well-established actress in her own right.

Poor Lise seems to be caught in a web of circumstantial evidence, and she does not help her case by appearing stiff and emotionally distant in the courtroom. Owing to a cheesy video in which she performs a sex act on a male friend of her and Flora, which Flora had the poor taste to post online, Lise is now deemed by some to have had a motive for murdering her friend. As often happens in these cases, it’s almost as if Lise is on trial as much for her sexual mores as she is for the alleged crime. Her position is not unlike that of Meursault in Camus’ The Stranger who, while ostensibly on trial for killing an Algerian man, found himself being judged for the fact that at the time of his mother’s death, he had been seen smoking a cigarette while keeping watch over her body.

Rounding out the cast are Roschdy Zem as the father who, when not fending off unwanted suitors, learns as the trial unfolds that he scarcely knows his daughter, and Chiara Mastroianni as the mother whose professional obligations seem to distance her from both husband and daughter.

Mélissa Guers shines in a début performance as Lise, the young woman whose fate looms over this trial. Helping her is her defence lawyer (Anne Mercier), a matronly woman who knows her way around a courtroom and knows full well that young women in trouble are frequently judged for lifestyle issues that have little or no bearing on the charges they face.

The Girl with a Bracelet is a subtly told psychological tale of a taciturn young woman from a family already grappling with issues of its own who is charged with a capital crime. The trial becomes a learning curve for all concerned and while the outcome is ambiguous, it is a fitting dénouement.

In French with English subtitles.
Running time: 93 minutes.
Probable rating: 14A.
Check with Glebe Video for DVD availability.

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