Directed by Simon Lavoie

Chosen as this year’s Canada’s Top 10 films of the Year, the Quebecois film LA PETITE FILLE QUI AIMAIT TROP LES ALLUMETTES receives a deserved run this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  It is a strangest of all the 10 films and rightly so because the novel (by Gaétan Soucy) it is based on is indeed a strange one. This novel was chosen for inclusion in the French version of Canada Reads, broadcast on Radio-Canada in 2004, where it was championed by actor, film director, screenwriter, and musician Micheline Lanctôt.

The story is about two siblings who live in complete isolation with their father. They are both his "sons".  One day the father kills himself by hanging and his sons decide one of them needs to go to the nearby village to get a coffin.  While in the village it is unveiled that the one son is actually a female although she has no idea of that (she has no idea of sexuality and thinks she was castrated when she was very young and that is why she doesn't have testicles). It also become apparent she has been being used for sex by her brother and eventually becomes pregnant with child.

The film takes certain liberties with the novel and director Lavoie changes a few things to make it more believable.  Lavoie lets the audience know from the beginning that one of the siblings is a girl and not a boy.  This is a wise decision as the actress playing the part looks more feminine than masculine despite the male clothes and short hair.  The father only hangs himself at the 30 minute mark of the film.  The evil things that go on are revealed while the father is alive while he has a part to play in them.  In the book the girl thinks she was castrated while in the film, she is told by her father that her pee-pee dropped off when she was a child.  Her Prince Charming in the film is a land surveyor for the government and not a mine inspector.

The story is a dark one.  Twists in the plot show up every 15 minutes or so, and they are not for the better.  But the girl is strong willed and able to resist her brother, the villagers and her unknown fears.

The film is even creepier with the existence of the unknown monster kept in the shack outside the main house.  Who or what is this creature?  Director Lavoie teases the audience, led to believe at first that it would be the siblings’ mother. 

The film is a worthy and well plotted adaptation of the novel.  Wisely shot in black and white with choral music in the soundtrack to give the film a Gothic look, the film captures both the creepiness and innocence of the girl in the story.  A  disturbing film undoubtedly due to its theme, but indeed a Top 10 Canadian film of the year! 


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Film Review: Happy End

HAPPY END (France/Germany/Austria 2017) ****
Directed by Michael Haneke

Austrian director Michael Haneke, whose last film in 2012 AMOUR won both the Best Foreign Film Oscar and Cannes Palme d’Or returns with a sequel that continues the exploits of the Laurent family.  Though critics at Cannes were generally unimpressed with HAPPY END, the film is still not without its artistic pleasures.  For one, Haneke still shocks with this film, though on a lighter scale.

HAPPY END can be seen as a film that infuses many of the traits of Haneke’s previous films.  When the film opens, the audience sees what is happening though the recording on a cell phone, the routine of a 12-year old (Fantine Harduin) similar to the video surveillance in Haneke’s film CACHE (HIDDEN).  This 12-year old is not one to be tampered with.  She has a mean streak, spying on her father’s (Matthieu Kassovitz) computer and discovering his affair and poisoning a girl she dislikes at camp and her pet hamster.  This is reminiscent of the power of children in Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON.  The bourgeois French family is held together by Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert), the father’s sister.  But suicide is in the mind of Anne’s father, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).  In Hanake’s first film, THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, the whole family committed mass suicide after a banquet meal.  The dysfunctional family is all reminiscent of FUNNY GAMES in which a family is disrupted by a home invasion.

HAPPY END follows AMOUR where Anne has taken over the family business from Georges.  The business has also just suffered a mishap in which several employees were killed.  The CEO of the company is Anne’s deadbeat son (Franz Rogowski) who is hot-tempered and mentally unstable.  At the same time, Anne is being engaged to be married to her tolerant fiancé (Toby Jones).   All the events are seen from the point of view of the 12-year old, which brings the film to a good focus.

HAPPY END is a film that looks at the entire Laurent family rather than one or two characters as in Haneke’s other films.  It is also lighter and funnier with death often just brushed off.  In the scene when the servants’ daughter is bitten by a dog, Anne arrives with a box of chocolates.

But HAPPY END is serious in its consideration of suicide.  Georges, in a comical scene, asks his tailor of 20 years to help him with getting him a gun or poison to end his life.  Georges has already made one attempt on his own life by driving his car into a tree, but the family and cops have suspicions as the car left no tire brake marks.

The film ends with the wedding celebration of Anne rudely interrupted by her unstable son, Pierre with refugees from a nearby camp in Calais..  Hanake cleverly  places the European migrant crisis into the the film's plot in the film’s climatic wedding scene .  But Anne is able to deal with him, in a comical, unexpected way.  (She breaks his finger.)  The ending is just as funny and shows that life goes on, happy or not.  What constitutes a HAPPY END, is the question Haneke poses.

HAPPY END flows so smoothly that it demands a second viewing to examine what one might have missed.  The film is shot in French.

Trailer (en Francais):

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