La ronde (2011)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama  |   Run Time - 23 min.  |   Countries - Canada   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Sophie Goyette's Genie-nominated short subject La Ronde concerns fraternal twins, Ariane (Eliane Prefontaine) and Alexandre (Hubert Lemire), who must navigate a dire crossroads. They have agreed to pull the plug on their schizophrenic father Michel, who lies brain dead in the hospital in the wake of a suicide attempt. While Alexandre stays in the area and undertakes this devastating act, Ariane absconds into the night on her brother's scooter, then hitches a ride from a stranger after the moped breaks down. Meanwhile, she indicates to Alex, in a cell phone call, that she will likely never return home. She's fleeing from herself, and one of her crippling fears involves the possibility that the schizophrenia and emotional dysfunction may be hereditary, that she will inevitably be saddled with the same issues as her father.

Goyette's subsequent short, the 2012 Le Futur proche, concerned itself with stasis - painting, as

a fixed portrait, its central character's state of mind and unusual coping mechanisms; with its slightly longer duration, this earlier court métrage forges a much different and somewhat trickier path, by etching out an entire character transition in merely 23 minutes. Ariane's arc involves not only abandoning the said neurosis, but in the process, re-embracing herself and her own identity with a second wind of renewed self-assurance, and meanwhile forcing herself to stop running and grieve over her father's passing.

The writer director brings across insights, here, on a remarkably intuitive level - with truths shown and never overstated, and lingering just beneath the surface of the action. Goyette relies heavily on audience interpretation in every scene, but significantly, her implications feel delicate, gentle, understated - never obtuse and oppressive. For instance, we get two beautiful events that demonstrate Ariane's mental health to us, long before it becomes a conscious realization for her. One transpires in the opening scene, and is symbolic: seated at the piano in her father's messy, chaotic, junk-laden house, she plays a series of isolated notes and transforms them into a mellifluous coherent piece of music. Another is literal: we watch Ariane take responsibility for a drunken little boy in the area, by placing him on her scooter and driving him home to his worried father. This young woman, Goyette seems to be telling us, isn't the slightest bit unstable; she is radiantly sane.

The film also interpolates profound insights about the nature of grief; about 2/3 of the way into the story, Ariane - who theretofore has clammed up her emotion inside - takes charge of an unmoored animal in the forest, and the tears begin to flow. It becomes readily apparent that she has taken the heartbreak that she feels regarding her father's fate, and rechanneled the sorrow through a safer, less intimate outlet. It's also clear that this constitutes the first step in a path toward contending with the familial sorrow itself.

If the picture's elegant behavioral observations and convincing psycho-emotional shifts were its sole assets, it would easy qualify as a great work; what elevates it to a sublime level is its inspired evocation of atmosphere. Goyette has a way of approaching the mise en scène in this film that seems brilliantly suited for its story. The nocturnal environment that Ariane traverses - with its flat, nondescript yards and driveways lit up by singular, illuminated structures such as a garish church and a row of abandoned semi rigs - suggests an almost mythical iconography in an contemporary landscape. It bears comparison to the world that Wim Wenders created and sustained in his 1984 Paris, Texas, and as in that film, the haunting loneliness of the nighttime world that we see here expressionistically mirrors the central character's spiritual alienation and isolation.

What the film leaves us with, in the final analysis, is a vision noteworthy for its conceptual singularity and cohesion, and the clarity with which the writer-director evokes it - the same hallmarks of an outstanding short film that also characterize Le Futur proche.