A somber fiction set in late 19th century rural Quebec, Catherine Martin’s debut feature “Mariages” recalls “Ethan Frome” or “The Scarlet Letter” in its austere portrait of sexual repression amid a puritanical society. Tinged with supernatural and pagan elements, this story’s intriguing potential is constantly undercut by execution that mistakes drab monotony for truthful restraint. Beyond home turf tube play, commercial prospects are nil.
Her mother having committed suicide when she was an infant, 20-year-old Yvonne (Marie-Eve Bertrand) has been raised — albeit mostly as an unpaid domestic — by embittered aunt Helene (Guylaine Tremblay). Latter intends packing Yvonne off to a convent, but the sensuous young woman dreads that prospect. She’s smitten by the first attractive bachelor (David Boutin) to pass by, and he’s bewitched (perhaps literally, given a grandmother’s herbalist spell-cast) by her, too. Yet Charles is already promised to Helene’s own adolescent daughter. Sense of passion straitjacketed by rigid mores is palpable, but Martin provides too little release in the good but over-reined perfs and indifferent staging. Ambiguous end posts one rare striking image after 90 minutes of dull compositions, with lenser Jean-Claude Labrecque missing untold opportunities for lyric intimacy.