Sur la trace d'Igor Rizzi - Rating 4
The timing of the release of Sur la trace d'Igor Rizzi couldn't be better.
The haunting first feature from Toronto-born, France-raised, Montreal-based writer-director Noel Mitrani is, amongst many other things, an homage to Montreal in winter, which is why it makes some kind of cosmic sense that it arrives onscreen just days after the first major snowstorm of the year. The city is finally covered in its usual mid-winter blanket of snow and that's exactly what you'll see in this film (which is titled On the Trail of Igor Rizzi in English).
Mitrani, who arrived here from France a few years back, is a big fan of our snowy cityscape and one of the pleasures of Igor Rizzi is soaking-up the stunning images Mitrani and his director of photography Christophe Debraize-Bois have captured of the town in frosty sub-Arctic weather conditions with everything covered in ubiquitous white.
The film is also a portrait of a lonely desperate man who has essentially given up on life and the stark snowy terrain is the perfect metaphor for former French soccer star Jean-Marc Thomas's bleak state-of-mind.
But the timing of the launch of Igor Rizzi is also notable given that Quebecois cinema is coming off a terrible year in which local flicks failed to excite audiences and critics.
Most of the Quebec films in 2006 underwhelmed for the very simple reason that they didn't speak to us and that's because the local filmmakers - along with the ever-more-powerful producers and distributors - were so busy chasing commercial success that they forgot about making memorable, personal films.
Mitrani's debut is exactly the kind of film that's been so sadly missing from the local line-up over the past 12 months and that's why it's generating enormous buzz.
People are talking about Igor Rizzi because it's a cool, intriguing flick, and not because it has a huge publicity machine behind it.
The first images set the tone. Jean-Marc (great Montreal-based French actor Laurent Lucas) is seen kicking his bright red soccer ball in the snow under the imposing shadow of the Jacques Cartier bridge and, in voice-over, the ex-sports star tells us that he's lost all his money as a result of some bad investments.
Torn apart by the death of his ex-girlfriend, who was Quebecoise, Jean-Marc is living in exile in Montreal because he feels the only way to be close to her is by immersing himself in her hometown. He is reduced to pulling off small-time crimes with his taciturn buddy (Pierre-Luc Brillant), though it's quickly made clear that neither of them has any aptitude for this line of work.
Jean-Marc hits rock-bottom when he agrees to take on the job of murdering a certain Igor Rizzi for $15,000. This is one slow-moving film but one key reason you remain hooked is because you don't know who this strange guy is and Lucas does a stand-up job of making Jean-Marc a fascinating loser. Lucas, sporting a big bushy moustache, brings a kind of grubby charisma to this depressed fellow.
There is also a sly humour here that's entirely appealing and neatly undercuts the brutal pessimism of the main story.
The only disappointment is that wonderful local actors Emmanuel Bilodeau and Isabelle Blais are so under-used.
Blais plays his ex in a few all-too-brief flashbacks - or maybe dream sequences - and Bilodeau is a strange, demented thug who appears late in the tale, in a sub-plot that's not particularly believable.
But this film isn't really about narrative.
It's a big-screen poem about loss, loneliness and how even the most desperate man can find redemption in the oddest of places.Mitrani seems to instinctively understand that film is fundamentally a visual medium and it's that uncanny talent for letting the images do the talking that makes Sur la trace d'Igor Rizzi so memorable. He also captures Montreal with a newcomer's eyes, underlining the unique beauty of things we locals wouldn't look at twice, like snowy Mount Royal, the Jacques Cartier bridge on a clear winter day or even an icy downtown alley.
By Brian Kelly