An omnibus pic showcasing the writing and directing skills of six young Quebec helmers, “Cosmos” manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of the multi-director genre thanks to the film’s hip feel and look, and a fresh indie spirit not often seen in Quebec cinema over the past decade. As usual with this kind of effort, the quality of the six segments varies widely, going from mediocre to fairly inspired, with the strongest sections courtesy of Andre Turpin, Denis Villeneuve and Arto Paragamian.
Assembled by vet Canadian producer Roger Frappier, “Cosmos,” which opened Nov. 15 in Quebec to lackluster biz, is very much an arthouse item, and it will appeal only to auds hungry for original auteur fare. Its most likely home outside Canada will be in festival and other specialty settings, where pic will serve to intro some talented Gen-X filmmakers from Quebec. Paragamian is the only one of the six with anything of a rep, due to his first feature, “Because Why,” which traveled the global fest circuit a couple of years back.
Manon Briand’s curtain-raiser, “Boost,” has Yannie (Marie-Helene Montpetit) cruising in a vintage convertible to meet Joel (Pascal Contamine), who is extremely worried about the AIDS test he’s meant to undergo later that day. She drives her friend around town in an effort to cheer him up, and seg, which seems too slight for the weighty subject matter, is the only one to be intercut around the other mini-films.
Second section, Marie-Julie Dallaire’s “The Individual,” follows a man (Sebastien Joannette), presumably a serial killer, who shows up to look at an apartment that a woman (Elise Guilbault) is trying to rent. Dallaire hints that he murders the woman in the underground parking garage. The section is, by far, the weakest link in “Cosmos.”
In “The Technetium,” nervous young filmmaker Morille (David La Haye) is in the back of Cosmos’ (Igor Ovadis) cab en route to an interview at an MTV-like network. In a hilarious sequence, Morille has his hair dyed and coifed before the interview and looks on in astonishment when the airhead host (Audrey Benoit) interviews his hairdresser before him. Villeneuve has crafted a fast-paced, funny sendup of the musicvideo mindset.
In the most satisfying piece, “Jules and Fanny,” writer-director Turpin tells the tale of former lovers who meet after five years apart. Since their breakup, Fanny (Marie-France Lambert) has had her breasts enhanced, and Jules (Alexis Martin) suggests she come up to his hotel room and show off her new, improved bosoms. Turpin’s debut feature, “Zigrail,” was dogged by a weak script, but the dialogue in “Jules and Fanny” zings off the screen with witty assurance.
Jennifer Alleyn’s “Aurore and Crepuscule” is a charming, romantic vignette about a young woman, Aurore (Sarah-Jeanne Salvy), who is stood up by her b.f. at a theater on her 20th birthday. She runs into a world-weary old man, Crepuscule (Gabriel Gascon), and he takes her out to play pool and discuss the vagaries of life, love and romance.
Pic wraps on a comic note with Paragamian’s “Cosmos and Agriculture,” featuring philosophical cab driver Cosmos and his pal Janvier (Marc Jeanty). While they’re happily chatting at the corner diner, a couple of criminals make off with Cosmos’ car, which they use to rob a bank a couple of blocks away. Cosmos and his buddy jump into Janvier’s cab to chase the car thieves, with tragicomic results. Segment plays like a warm, comic anecdote.
Cosmos the cabby is the character who is supposed to tie the different yarns together, but, like most omnibus projects, the lack of a coherent narrative will prove problematic for many. The film is best approached as a collection of cinematic short stories, and four of the six writer-directors (Villeneuve, Turpin, Alleyn and Paragamian) come through with worthwhile outings.
There are several strong performances, most notably La Haye as the nerve-racked, paranoid film-maker, Martin and Lambert as the dueling ex-lovers in “Jules and Fanny,” seasoned thesp Gascon as the eccentric Crepuscule, and Ovadis as the good-natured Cosmos.
The decision to shoot in black-and-white gives “Cosmos” a certain visual unity, and Turpin, who lensed the entire pic, once again shows verve and skill behind the camera, creating a vivid, innovative portrait of inner-city Montreal. The soundtrack varies from cool jazz to underground rock, and the hip musical sounds are used to good effect throughout.