Review: ‘Mon Amie Max’

Quebec helmer Michel Brault's "Mon Amie Max" is a slow-moving melodrama about a woman's search for a long-lost son that fails to rise above its predictable plot. Brault has attracted international attention before -- notably for the mid-1970s political drama "Les Ordres" and the more recent "Paper Wedding"-- but his latest effort is unlikely to stir up much B.O. action outside Quebec. Featuring a weak script and a tired performance by star Genevieve Bujold, pic opened locally Feb. 18.

Quebec helmer Michel Brault’s “Mon Amie Max” is a slow-moving melodrama about a woman’s search for a long-lost son that fails to rise above its predictable plot. Brault has attracted international attention before — notably for the mid-1970s political drama “Les Ordres” and the more recent “Paper Wedding”– but his latest effort is unlikely to stir up much B.O. action outside Quebec. Featuring a weak script and a tired performance by star Genevieve Bujold, pic opened locally Feb. 18.

Bujold plays Marie-Alexandrine (Max) Babant, a burned-out, middle-aged former classical pianist who returns to her native Quebec City after 25 years of self-imposed exile. Max comes crashing back into the life of her old friend Catherine Mercier (Marthe Keller), now a successful concert pianist, who was Max’s inseparable mate when they were teenagers studying at the Conservatoire de Musique.

In an extended flashback, the rebellious Max and the more subdued Catherine are shown winning the top spots at the school’s competition, and both seem destined for music careers. But Max’s life goes into a 25-year tailspin when she admits to her domineering mother, played with relish by stage vet Rita Lafontaine, that she is pregnant.

Her mother forces the 15-year-old to give up the baby boy for adoption, and Max’s career prospects — and her friendship with Catherine — go down the drain when she runs away from school and home in a fury.

When she finally returns to Quebec a couple of decades later to try to find her son, Catherine immediately agrees to help out her old school friend even though Max has renewed the relationship by breaking into Catherine’s apartment late one night. The plot takes a turn for the maudlin when Max also enlists the aid of Denis (local pop singer/actor Michel Rivard), who just happens to be a garage mechanic searching for his mother, who abandoned him early in life.

Bujold’s performance consists mostly of an endless series of sour expressions that peek out from behind ever-present dark shades. Keller is a bit more lively, but Jefferson Lewis’ script leaves her no room for character development. The real flaw here is that it’s never made clear why these girls were best friends in the first place, since they have almost nothing in common. Worse, the final dramatic reunion of mother and son doesn’t pack any emotional punch whatsoever thanks to a bizarre plot twist that will only confuse audiences. Lensing by Sylvain Brault — the director’s son — is first-rate, and his atmospheric snapshots of Old Quebec rep one of the pic’s few pleasures. Other production values are first-rate.

Mon Amie Max

Production

A C/FP Distribution (Canada) release of a Les Productions du Verseay/Les Productions Lazennec production, with the participation of the National Film Board of Canada/Telefilm Canada/Sogic/Ministere de la Culture et de la Francophonie/the Centre National de la Cinematographie. (International sales: Cinepix.) Produced by Amiee Danis. Co-producer, Carole Ducharme. Directed by Michel Brault. Screenplay, Jefferson Lewis.

Crew

Camera (color), Sylvain Brault; editor, Jacques Gagne; music, Francois Dompierre; artistic director, Anne Pritchard; costumes, Francois Laplante; sound, Patrick Rousseau; associate producer (National Film Board), Yves Rivard; line producer, Daniele Bussy; assistant director, Normand Bourgie. Reviewed at the Imperial Cinema, Montreal, Feb. 10, 1994. (In the Rendez-Vous du Cinema Quebecois Film Festival.) Running time: 107 MIN.
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