A biting black comedy with a razor-sharp edge, “The Ear of a Deaf Man” marks an impressive feature debut for writer-director Mario Bolduc, and the pic’s slang-filled, blue-collar humor will play well with French-Canadian auds. But the minimal production values of this low-budget project will probably hold it back from attaining the sort of boffo B.O. results enjoyed by pricier Quebec comedies. This distinct brand of earthy Quebecois humor may also limit the film’s appeal internationally.
On its home turf, “The Ear of a Deaf Man” will receive a significant marketing push from the Labatt brewery. The film kicked off the Rendez-Vous du Cinema Quebecois film festival and opened commercially in Montreal on one screen Feb. 2. With major advertising support from Labatt, the pic will be re-launched May 3 across the province.
The story revolves around the unlikely affair pairing crooked bingo operator Leon Bellavance (Marcel Sabourin) and Sophie Viau (Micheline Lanctot), both of whom are cheating on their respective mates. Bellavance, who considers himself something of a ladies’ man, is one sleazy character. He routinely rips off the working-class bingo-goers and runs a phony Catholic pilgrimage to a bogus shrine just across the U.S. border.
His g.f. doesn’t fare much better in the ethics department. She is living a fairly miserable existence stuck in a cramped, run-down apartment with a layabout husband (Luc Proulx), a terminally depressed teenage daughter (Marilys Ducharme) and a manipulative father-in-law (Paul Hebert) who has the household catering to his every whim. Sophie is determined to claw her way out of this dead-end lifestyle, no matter what it takes.
Her liaison with Leon seems to have as much to do with ambition as anything else, and that driving ambition soon has her plotting ways to knock off the unwelcome grandpa. The old man, Emile, has led the family to believe he has over $ 150,000 in his bank account, and the prospect of snatching the cash and getting rid of the sanctimonious old guy is just too tempting for Sophie. She enlists the help of Leon and his escaped-convict son, Paolo (Fabien Dupuis), to kill Emile, and the far-fetched murder caper is set in motion the morning of Leon’s biggest religious pilgrimage. The pic wraps with a twist ending that’s not entirely satisfying.
Bolduc’s script is refreshingly irreverent and frequently funny, featuring endless satirical jabs at the hypocritical side of Quebec Catholicism and the collapsing nuclear family. That comic edge is reminiscent of the young Denys Arcand, and, in fact, “The Ear of a Deaf Man” occasionally feels like a film that’s stuck in an early-’70s time warp.
Some of French Canada’s best-known thesps deliver inspired performances here, most notably Sabourin as the small-time hood/bingo boss/Catholic huckster Leon. He oozes sleaziness, without going over the top into caricature. Lanctot, who is a veteran filmmaker, manages to invest her unlikable character with some surprising humanity, and Hebert plays the sneaky grandfather with wonderfully understated comic style.
Helene Bombardier’s bouncy Latin jazz score adds a light touch to many of the scenes. Other production values are just fair, reflecting the paltry budget. Pic was shot in 16mm, and Alliance had it blown up to 35mm when the distributor picked up the project late in the game.