Also with: Mireille Metellus, Pascale Bussieres, Denise Bombardier.
Seasoned Gallic thesp Annie Girardot delivers a breath-taking performance in Quebec writer-director Jacques Leduc’s “When I Will Be Gone,” but there is little else memorable in this Canadian-French co-production. The tale of an aging woman coming to grips with the notion of her own death, pic is sleepily paced, more than a bit disjointed and, given the subject-matter, surprisingly free of strong emotions. France Film opened the pic in limited release in Quebec in late April and it is not likely to make much of an impact on its home turf. International prospects are no rosier, though fans of Girardot’s work may take a look and some fests may take a chance on this uneven effort.
Caroline (Girardot), a sixtysomething maverick, has a heavy sense of her own mortality, and, throughout the course of the story, she systematically prepares for her own death by ridding herself of virtually all of her possessions. As she burns old postcards and chucks her furniture out on the street below her Montreal apartment, the eccentric casts her thoughts back to her fairly troubled life. Extensive flashbacks chronicle her earlier experiences and back-story is also told via scenes in which a film crew interviews her two daughters.
One daughter, Rachel (Domini Blythe), is a cold, successful businesswoman, the product of a short-lived marriage to a Brit, while other daughter Myriam (Sheila Rose) is the result of a passionate affair with a rebel in the Congo. Memories are further stirred up when Caroline attends a black-tie reception, along with her old friend Maureen (France Castel), to receive the Order of Canada award for their community work in Africa.
The thin story is related in a jumpy, non-linear fashion that is distracting, and Leduc and Jacques Marcotte’s script fails to bring any of the characters to life, aside from Caroline herself.
In particular, the daughters are no more than cardboard cut-outs. Script problems are accentuated by the helmer’s inability to infuse the material with any substantial emotional resonance.
Girardot rises above her lackluster surroundings with a powerful perf, bringing both intensity and tenderness to her portrayal. Castel is also good in her much smaller role, while the other thesps have little room to shine given the script’s lack of character development.
Avant-garde Montreal composer Jean Derome has constructed an intriguing score that adds a nice arty feel to the proceeding with the use of strange percussion sounds. Cameraman Pierre Letarte further heightens the art-film atmosphere by shooting pic in lighter and lighter shades as Caroline moves inexorably toward her death.