Anchored by an excellent lead performance from bigscreen newcomer Fanny Mallette, “The Orphan Muses” is a solid dysfunctional-family drama with no shortage of emotional force. But Gilles Desjardins’ script, based on the play by “Lilies” author Michel Marc Bouchard, is too predictable, with the family secrets tumbling out at regular intervals in classic psycho-drama fashion. Pic opened on 11 screens in Quebec Nov. 3 to so-so business, but it could well pique interest of fest programmers internationally.
The Tanguay family is one mucked-up clan. Twenty years earlier, the kids in the family were devastated when they discovered that their mother, shortly after the death of her husband, had taken off with her Latin lover to Spain. The older siblings, Catherine (Marina Orsini), Martine (Celine Bonnier) and Luc (Stephane Demers), decided to shield their younger sister Isabelle (Mallette) from the true story by pretending their mother had died, a plot twist that stretches credibility given that the true story seems less shocking than the tale made up by the siblings.
In any case, the big lie has not paid off for the Tanguays. Isabelle is now 25 but she has the emotional development of an 11-year-old and is raging against the world in general and her big sister Catherine in particular. Dramatic sparks start to fly when Isabelle convinces Martine and Luc to return to the family home in a rural Quebec village, where she is living with schoolteacher Catherine.
The characters are unfortunately uni-dimensional: Catherine is the repressed stand-in matriarch, Martine is the angry lesbian, Luc is the tormented writer and Isabelle is the disturbed emotional time-bomb. All of the main thesps do a good job given the script limitations, but it’s Mallette who really impresses, dominating the screen with her brooding, intense presence.
Favreau has expanded the drama beyond the stagy confines of the Tanguay house, but pic is unable to completely shed its legit origins and remains a talky, claustrophobic piece. Composers Michel Donato and James Gelfand add greatly to the pic with music that neatly blends Quebecois traditional sounds with jazzy riffs.