Montreal helmer Louis Belanger, who has worked mostly in video until now, makes an impressive feature-film debut with “Post Mortem,” a strange, absorbing tale of love, crime and redemption. Story of a single mother with a penchant for illegal activities and a morose morgue attendant is one of the more striking pics to come out of French Canada in several years. Belanger’s unusual style of storytelling may scare off mainstream auds in Canada, but it will likely strike a chord with filmgoers looking for thought-provoking fare and, with the right marketing, could do decent business on its home turf, where it opens Sept. 17. It is also a natural for the international fest circuit.
Linda (Sylvie Moreau) is devoted to her 5-year-old daughter, Charlotte (Sarah Lecompte-Bergeron), and she’ll do just about anything to provide for her kid, including lying, stealing and beating up guys. The fairly attractive Linda has perfected the fine art of picking up well-to-do men, taking them to secluded spots, knocking them on the head with blunt objects and stealing their cash, credit cards and other valuables. First half-hour shows Linda at work, fighting with her mother (Helene Loiselle) and mostly having a fun time with her young kid. Her life of crime works pretty well until she tries to pull her usual routine with a tough-guy American, who turns the tables on her.
Second section focuses on Ghislain (Gabriel Arcand), an introverted fellow who works nights at the morgue and whose only pleasure in life comes from listening to vintage blues tunes. He has been arrested by the cops for rape, and, through flashbacks, it eventually becomes clear that his crime involves Linda. There is a wild plot twist at the one-hour mark, followed by a final reel in which Linda and Ghislain interact onscreen for the first time.
Without giving away too much, Belanger’s unique yarn involves necrophilia and the notion that the newly dead sometimes make it back to life; the wonder of the film is that these potentially cheesy developments don’t seem sensationalistic. Instead, the helmer’s ultra-realistic approach to the material ensures that the drama is always believable. At its core, this is a love story, albeit anything but a conventional one. Pic’s intense emotions and unconventional narrative are reminiscent of the best work of late Quebec filmmaker Jean-Claude Lauzon (“Night Zoo,” “Leolo”). But Belanger’s achievement here is that he manages to find a new way of telling a love story onscreen that is both a deconstruction of the form and extremely moving.
Both lead thesps do a terrific job of bringing their characters to life. Veteran actor Arcand is perfect as Ghislain, all doleful, staring eyes and shuffling walk, but the less-known Moreau is the real surprise. She adds welcome complexity to Linda, creating a character grappling with conflicting feelings of rage and a desperate need for affection.
Pic makes good use of different sounds to set the tone. Ghislain’s anxiety level is heightened by the constant blare of radio talkshows and is then mellowed several degrees by Delta blues numbers, most provided by local musician Steve Hill. Cameraman Jean-Pierre St-Louis has shot the film in gritty cinema verite style, and the no-frills look helps make the extraordinary events seem credible.