An unexpected pleasure, from the French no less

Perhaps it was an accident that led me to see a masterpiece at this year’s CIFF.

As I walked towards the Uptown Theatre for the 7:00 p.m. show of The Republic of Love, I was surprised at the crowd gathered outside. The numerous suits and evening gowns suddenly tipped me off to a Gala Screening, the only place my media pass could not take me. Dejected but not defeated, I crossed the street to the Globe where the only show I could make was 8:17 Darling Street.

I took my seat just as Gerard (Luc Picard) begins his confession, “My name is Gerard. I am an alcoholic.” For the rest of the film I was entrenched in the story of a man searching for answers to some of the deepest, most philosophic questions of our existence in a seemingly unconventional manner.

8:17 Darling Street is the story of a burnt-out retired journalist struggling to remain sober who is suddenly confronted by questions of his own mortality and fragility.

One night, after being called to an ex-wife’s apartment, Gerard is delayed in returning home by a series of fateful interventions, one being an untied shoelace. These interventions save Gerard from a deadly explosion at his own apartment which kills six people. As if trying to stay sober wasn’t enough trouble for one man, Gerard now must ask himself the question: “Why was my life spared?” As he searches for meaning among the wreckage of his life and home he reverts to his detective/journalist ways and looks to the stories of the lives that were lost in the explosion for answers.

A very compelling film, 8:17 Darling Street is one of my favourites in the last few years. Inspired by the Thorton Wilder novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and gumshoe/sleuth film noir of the past, director Bernard Emond originally had trouble with the synopsis for the film, so what did he do? He wrote the novel of course and then adapted it to the screen, proving that it sometimes takes one step backwards before we can take two forward. I feel that doing this gave the script a powerful edge and it was obvious that each word was well-crafted.

The performance by Luc Picard in the lead role also drove this film to surmount my expectations. Long regarded as one of Quebec’s finest actors, Picard obviously felt a close affiliation with Gerard and recently received a Best Actor award at the Belgian Film Festival for International Francophone films.

Hopefully 8:17 Darling Street will come through Calgary soon. If it doesn’t, rest assured: if it doesn’t it will be available on VHS and DVD soon.

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