TIFF Review: 'Ville-Marie'

(Canada, 101 min.)
Dir. Guy Édoin, Writ. Guy Édoin, Jean-Simon DesRochers
Starring: Monica Bellucci, Pascal Bussières, Aliocha Schneider, Patrick Hivon
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Monica Bellucci saves Ville-Marie from a series of complications and lifts its condition from critical to stable. The Italian actress gives a strong performance in the Canadian drama playing bombshell European star Sophie Bernard who turns heads while shooting a film in Montreal. Bellucci's captivating screen presence plays perfectly to the style of Ville-Marie and the ornately stylish film within the film. The rest of Ville-Marie doesn't hold itself up as nicely, though, as the messy multi-narrative never quite comes together. This second dramatic feature from Guy Édoin (Wetlands) both disappoints and delivers as its ambitions ultimately outpace itself.

Four plotlines become two and the two eventually become one as an accident brings four central characters to Ville-Marie hospital. Bellucci leads the most interesting thread of the film as Sophie takes a role in which her director (Frédéric Gilles), a long-time collaborator and boyfriend, steals her life and turns it into a movie. Sophie gives showstopper of a performance playing herself in director's melodramatic story about a woman who is raped by her powerful husband.

The second thread, or the first really since it opens the film, features Sophie's son, Thomas (played by Aliocha Schneider, who guides a surprisingly flat performance despite being one of this year's TIFF Rising Stars), who finds himself at the centre of his own maternal trauma. The film's powerful opener, a long take, tracks Thomas down the street to a bus stop where a woman quickly hands him her baby and then throws herself under an oncoming transport truck. The loss leaves him shaken and the trauma becomes an underlying wound that beckons the four threads to converge.

At Ville-Marie, Marie (Pascale Bussières) is a nurse who brings order to chaos while Pierre (Patrick Hivron) is a paramedic coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. The complex script writes shades of Sophie and Thomas’s losses into the backstories of both hospital workers, but neither Marie nor Pierre offers the same depth of character. The structure of the film inevitably favours Sophie as the nuances of her roles as actress and mothers draw attention to performativity as Thomas challenges his mother for putting on a show and playing a part instead of being a parent. Everyone else is just himself or herself, stressed, edgy, and tense with no outlet for relief.

Stylistically, Ville-Marie also catches itself in a tension between authenticity and performance as Sophie’s film offers an über-stylish mise-en-abyme for the drama of the four threads. Édoin ravishingly plays with melodrama and excess, and he gives Sophie’s theatrical flair a touch of Almodóvar-esque panache. Colours pop out of the frame and the camera hugs Bellucci in dresses that Thomas says resemble a Christmas tree as a baroque score borrowed from Laurence Anyways give Sophie notes of a Hitchcockian blonde. Mirrors abound in Sophie’s world, reflecting various tones of herself as she falls into an abyss confronting the one role she doesn’t know how to play. The only truth comes when Sophie confronts herself in a final mirror on the fateful night at the hospital as Sophie strips away all her protective gear. Exposed, vulnerable, and emotionally naked, it’s Bellucci’s best scene of the film

The fractured narrative, however, juxtaposes sweeping style and rainy drabness as the scenes at Ville-Marie are comparatively more straightforward and stylistically restrained. (Some shot choices of the ambulance racing through Montreal, however, are quite effective.) The disjointed contrast also mirrors itself in the dramatic weight that Ville-Marie offers Bellucci over her three co-stars. The actress gets a handful of standout scenes, but the other three are largely vehicles for plot development. The climax thus struggles to find an appropriately balanced an emotional payoff as fates converge and Ville-Marie leaves the audience with a half-full/half-empty glass.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Ville-Marie screens:
-Monday, Sept. 14 at Scotiabank 2 at 3:45 PM
-Saturday, Sept. 19 at the Isabel Bader at 9:45 AM

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