(out of 4)
Opening on the image of a washed-up, self-exiled European soccer player aimlessly kicking a ball across the crusty mid-winter snow of Montreal, Noël Mitrani's On the Trail of Igor Rizzi instantly announces itself as a movie about going nowhere – which it is, but in a brilliantly executed, strictly deadpan and frequently hilarious manner.
Having moved to Montreal to be in the city where the love he once spurned came from, former soccer star Jean-Marc (Laurent Lucas) passes the time between botched small-time robberies – typical is the one requiring that Jean-Marc and his partner Michel (Pierre-Luc Brillant) re-break-and-enter because the latter may have forgotten his wallet – and by sitting around his unfurnished basement apartment eating crackers, munching a head of iceberg lettuce and pondering the one that got away.
And booting that ball from one frozen end of the city to the other.
When Michel offers Jean-Marc a crack at 15 grand for killing a certain Igor Rizzi, the ex-footballer responds with a typical deficit of enthusiasm: "Let me think it over," he tells the stunned man (wearing a smashing coonskin cap and matching overcoat) behind the hit, who subsequently lowers his offer by half.
Perhaps because he's never fired a gun before, Jean-Marc accepts the offer.
With echoes of Jim Jarmusch and Aki (The Man Without a Past) Kaurismäki, the Paris-raised Canadian filmmaker Mitrani creates at atmosphere of mopey existential resignation.
Mitrani keeps his camera at a distance, his shots long, his compositions strategically sparse – the better to get a laugh out of the smallest events – and his characters engaged in a constant effort just to get from one end of the day to another.
In one sequence, the lost wallet turns up only after it's been inadvertently pissed on by its owner. In another, Jean-Marc struggles to hoist a dead body wrapped up in a sleeping bag over a slush-encrusted snowbank during a brutally high wind.
And you thought Margaret Atwood's Survival was about Canadian literature?
Mitrani's first feature, On the Trail of Igor Rizzi has all the earmarks – pink from cold though they may be – of a confidently assured and dangerously promising new talent.
Provided, of course, he doesn't slip on that ice.
By Geoff Pevere