Nov 3, 2008

Red (1970)

In the summer, I underwent my annual employment of digitizing the latest edition of Hunkajunk for Dion Conflict, and was especially entranced by a trailer for a Canadian film named Red. Ironically, only a few weeks earlier I had picked up a VHS of said film in a bin for two bucks. Upon seeing it was an early Gilles Carle film, and having had Canadian cinema back on the brain thanks to the efforts of one Jonathan Culp, I took it to the cashier without hesitation. Watching the trailer made me want to see it even more. We often question the truth in advertising, and in the case of this mouthwatering trailer (which is black and white, even though the film it promotes is in colour), the advertising is a half-truth. The ad we saw promotes this movie as a revenge melodrama piece of exploitation, but that is really only part of this fascinating film.

In past writings, I had often likened Canadian cinema (circa 1968-73) to the French New Wave, British "Kitchen Sink films", or even American independent works of the 1960's (specifically Shadows). Our films of this period share much with those influential movements, such as experimentation of film form, "on-the-street" docudrama approach, yet all done with a proper dose of playfulness. And each of these movements had a cultural icon which defined them: the French had Belmondo in Breathless, the British had John Osborne, and America had Ben Carruthers. If we were to think of our own cultural icon from this period, the common (yet not incorrect) answer would be Joey and Pete from Goin' Down the Road. However, now, I'm not so sure. Perhaps our true answer to this equation would be Daniel Pilon's titular character in Red.

And further, Red is perhaps the ancestor of both things that Canadian cinema would become: self-conscious art-film and Canuxploitation. It is torn between two disciplines much like the central character. Red is a hustler who ekes out a living in urban life in Quebec, but still revisits his native heritage. When his sister is killed, and he is blamed for the murder, he spends time in the wilderness with his people while he bides time to decide his fate. Whether driving in his fast car through the skeletal freeway system or placidly boating through a lake, Red is equally at home, yet both of these worlds collide.

The first hour of this film is dizzying, as there are more story threads than in most commercial movies. We see Red blurring between scenes with his mother, his siblings who work at a construction site, and various chippies along the way, until the movie converges to a singular plot line about his escape from authority and ultimate revenge. But Red continues to surprise us. It subtly lets the viewer study and understand his complex relationships without having to over-explain them. Plus, the movie's consistent shifts in tone, and some geniunely bizarre moments (like a bachelor party that initially resembles a wake), always veer this revenge melodrama from its conventional path.

Red is a marvel of Canadian cinema that assuredly will reward with multiple viewings. It is a movie so complex and unconventional for the art house crowd, but still has lots of sex and violence for the drive-in. Like its central character, it has the best of both worlds.

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