Monday, September 13, 2010

Red the Half Breed

(Gilles Carle, 1970)
A pioneering attempt to bring the nouvelle vague fusion of art film and crime film to Canada, via Quebec of course, this suggests possibilities that were rarely breached again in our sadly bifurcated film culture: a small, intimate character study with grand themes expressed through action. Both form and content inhere in Daniel Pilon's title character, the literal product of Francophone and Iroquois culture clash; a suave petty thief, he goes about his tawdry business until he's accused of the murder of his beloved half-sister and takes it on the lam. The first half of the film builds a compellingly intimate portrait of Pilon's white community, presented with a relaxed, engaging offhandedness; the initial murder/shootout/chase material comes out of left field in the second act, but makes sense internally and is momentarily exciting. Carle is to be commended for his reach, but grasp is another thing. Having abstracted his themes into a genre scenario, he immediately abstracts them further; all remaining material seems to be working on a symbolic/allegorical level, none more so than Pilon's retreat to his reservation hideout with white girlfriend. This sequence is a total disaster, both ideologically (there are better ways to deromanticize First Nations culture than portraying them as one big sexist smuggling ring) and dramatically (the chick is a huge pain in the ass). Digressing at this moment in the plot comes off as a nervous retreat from the genre material; instead of going out and gathering evidence on the true murderer, the guy just...figures it out, and then trots back into town for his martyrdom. In short, this is not a fusion, it's a dog's breakfast. Tragic indeed.

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