Sur la trace d'Igor Rizzi, the remarkable first feature from Montreal-based filmmaker Noel Mitrani, is a poetic look at a former French soccer star living in self-imposed exile in snow-covered Montreal. So it's only appropriate that the film, which opens this Friday, is the result of a collaboration between two guys who, like the film's anti-hero, made the decision to abandon France and come live here in Quebec.
Igor Rizzi, a low-budget production made with almost no government money, has generated enormous buzz, premiering at the Venice film fest, winning the award for best first Canadian feature at the Toronto Film Festival and landing a berth in the list of the top 10 Canadian films of 2006 compiled by the Toronto film fest.
Mitrani was born in Toronto to French parents and, after spending the first five years of his life in T.O., he moved with his family back to France. Three years ago, he decided to return to the country where he was born and he has been happily based here ever since.
Actor Laurent Lucas, who delivers a stand-out performance as burned-out French sports star Jean-Marc Thomas, moved from Paris to our city six years ago after falling in love with a Quebecoise he met while shooting a film here.
But both Mitrani and Lucas are quick to underline that their reasons for adopting Montreal couldn't be more different than Jean-Marc's.
"He comes to Montreal to die," said Lucas, who is best-known for his starring roles in two acclaimed French films from director Dominik Moll, Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien, and Lemming. "Montreal is like a tomb for him. I made the decision to come live here because I loved Quebec from the first time I came here."
Jean-Marc is a ruin of a man at the start of the film. He is still shattered by the death of his former girlfriend, played by the luminous Isabelle Blais in flashback. He has come to Montreal, her hometown, because he feels it's the only way to be close to his lost love. Broke, Jean-Marc is reduced to ekeing out a living as a petty criminal, a job he seems particularly unsuited to handling.
The cast also includes Pierre-Luc Brillant and Emmanuel Bilodeau.
"It's only an autobiographical film in the sense that all of the reflexes of the main character are my reflexes," Mitrani said.
He began writing the Igor Rizzi screenplay shortly after arriving in Montreal, and he always had his friend Lucas in mind for the lead role. Mitrani had some money that he'd made from an earlier short film and, instead of waiting around for the funding agencies to come on board, Mitrani decided to make the film on a shoestring budget with his own money.
The film was shot quickly last February, mostly outdoors in frigid winter conditions, but Mitrani and Lucas insist the lack of cash wasn't a problem.
"I had $50,000, no more, no less," said Mitrani, who directed, produced and wrote the film. "I would call suppliers, like Fuji for the film stock, and I'd say: 'I need this many feet of film and I have $10,000 to spend. That's it. Do we have a deal?' And the guy laughed and then agreed to the deal. So I ended up paying less than the normal rates for everything. In the end, I didn't lack anything. I had exactly what I needed. The most important things are to have a 35mm camera, film stock and great actors."
All of the scenes inside Jean-Marc's stark apartment were shot in Lucas's house. The filmmakers simply moved the actor's belongings into other rooms to give the place the required bare-bones look. Even shooting outside in sub-zero temperatures wasn't a hardship, Lucas noted.
"I love the snow," the French actor said. "Quebecers told me it would be tough, but I love the cold. So it was a real pleasure to shoot in the snow. It's like a huge set. It's probably the same as shooting in the desert."
The snow is both the main set and acts almost as another character in the film. Mitrani is aware of the irony that he might have had trouble shooting the film this winter given the unusual lack of snow 'round these parts.
"The snow imposes a silence," Mitrani said, "and I needed that."Sur la trace d'Igor Rizzi opens Friday at Ex-Centris in its original French version with English subtitles. The English title is On the Trail of Igor Rizzi.
By Brian Kelly