Review: Maudite Poutine (2016)

Maudite Poutine (2016)

Directed by: Karl Lemieux | 91 minutes | drama | Actors: Jean-Simon Leduc, Martin Dubreuil, Francis La Haye, Robin Aubert, Marie Brassard, Alexa-Jeanne Dubé, Clara Furey, Martin Leblanc

Flickering light and very peculiar sounds. The tone is set. The beginning is scary, but at the same time it arouses curiosity about what ‘Maudite Poutine’ will bring. Karl Lemieux’s contrasting black-and-white film premiered at the 73rd Venice Film Festival and was nominated for a “Venice Horizons Award for Best Film”. With the short films ‘Mamori’ (2010) and ‘Quiet Zone’ (2015), Lemieux has shown that his film style is a bit on the unusual side. The Canadian director is a sort of explorer. A (film) explorer with an artistic goal in mind. He uses all kinds of aesthetic tricks in order to discover the possibilities and limits of film directing. This is also the case in ‘Maudite Poutine’, Lemieux’s first full-length film.

Vincent (Jean-Simon Leduc) and two of his friends are caught stealing soft drugs and that causes quite a few problems. To escape the situation, he returns to his hometown in Quebec to express his love for music while playing drums in a band. However, an attempt to improve his life is not very successful. In addition to hanging out aimlessly with his listless brother or other youngsters, stealing weed yields a ticket with the violent group of dealers “The Bikers”. They demand a priceless $10,000 from Vincent and his buddies within a week. Junkie brother Michel (convincingly played by Martin Dubreuil) tries to protect his little brother from these evil men, but is a bit lost himself and seems to make the situation worse. What started as an (innocent) prank quickly takes a hopeless and oppressive turn.

Although the story is simple and not very innovative, the whole is presented to the viewer in a complex and almost wordless way. The script contains less than ten pages of dialogue with the result that it takes a while before it becomes clear what is going on. The black-and-white rendering certainly contributes to the gritty, despondent atmosphere – as does the underground music and all the other radical sound elements – but a certain obscurity sometimes makes it difficult to determine what exactly is to be seen. Lemieux constantly challenges the viewer. Several scenes or shots are fairly meaningless or not necessarily of added value, which means that you regularly have trouble continuing to watch carefully. But before boredom really sets in, a somewhat more fascinating scene is presented and the ability to concentrate gets a (temporary) boost. One thing is certain, the viewer experiences exactly how different characters in ‘Maudite Poutine’ experience their lives. Bored and without any purpose.

Poutine is a typical dish from Quebec, the place where all evil takes place. It is the Canadian version of a French fries war and in that sense makes an excellent reference to the cursed (Maudite) and messy life of the protagonists Vincent and Michel. The film title also refers to the chaotic, almost excessive creativity of the director. But what applies to a potato chip also applies to this artistic film: it will not be to everyone’s taste. ‘Maudite Poutine’ is certainly experimentally daring, although as a director you can also exaggerate a bit.

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