A couple watch helplessly as their lives are ground down by illness and corporate greed in “Summit Circle,” the ironically titled second installment of helmer Bernard Emond’s proposed trilogy on faith, hope and charity. Similar in style to his previous “The Novena,” with its deliberate, undifferentiated calmness, pic is a prime example of soporific filmmaking, not because it’s dull (it’s not) but because it’s determined that no outbursts, whether of joy or of sorrow, will muss up the benumbing tranquility. Fests that showcased Emond’s earlier work will take a look, though even local biz will be slack.
Pic opens with a catatonic, blood-smeared Rejeanne (Guylaine Tremblay) gently interrogated by Lt. Allard (Rene-Daniel Dubois). Story then flashes back to happier times, when telephone operator Rejeanne and her mild trucker hubby Gilles (Guy Jodoin) buy their dream house, a modest charmer surrounded by peonies.
Soon after the move a stroke sends Gilles to the hospital; once home, a deep funk sets in, hampering any physical improvement and putting additional physical, emotional and economic burdens on Rejeanne, though she’s not one to complain. Repeated flash-forwards to the present make it clear the cop believes Rejeanne killed her husband, but auds still need convincing.
Just when Gilles is finally getting better, Rejeanne’s employer, Jean-Pierre Deniger (Serge Houde), sells the business so he can continue climbing the ranks to be the wealthiest man in Canada. A proposed 50% pay cut forces Rejeanne to sell their home and move into a place on Summit Circle. The move sparks a steep decline in Gilles’ condition, but Rejeanne manages to just hold it together until she helps cater a party at Deniger’s home and confronts the man she sees as the source of her struggles.
Emond seems uncertain whether to blame inexorable fate or rampant capitalism for Rejeanne’s tragedy, though Deniger isn’t the real culprit, no matter how distasteful one might find him and his business practices. Shifts back and forth in time are also problematic, meant to fill up the half-finished puzzle but ultimately as unrevealing as the police investigation at pic’s core. Of course there can be no summit to a circle, but moving from Point C to Point A and then back to Point C defeats any hoped-for climax.
As in past films, Emond deliberately dampens down all emotions, as if covering them with a felt blanket. Rejeanne’s devotion to her husband is clear, but there’s no chemistry between Tremblay and Jodoin, and also no scripted joy in their lives: Where’s the playful affection, the demonstrations of love that would enrich the relationship? Tremblay is a strong actress, nicely conveying the strains tearing her apart, but it’s all so maddeningly restrained.
So, too, are the colors. Walls are neutral blue-grays, clothes are all in soothing shades of blue; the only shot of bright color is a splash of turquoise in the corridor of a psychiatric hospital, which comes as a relief after all the restful tonalities that work against the story’s inherent tensions anyway. Locales are beautifully shot, and images certainly controlled, but a little shake-up would have gone a long way toward making this tragedy a more affecting work.