The fragile nuclear family comes under harrowing inspection by writer-director Rodrigue Jean in “Lost Song.” Pic, which won the Canadian Feature prize at Toronto, examines the fine line between a mother’s postpartum depression and her hormone-powered volatility — or, if you prefer, between an impartial character study and a work of calculated misogyny. Though set at a picturesque lake cabin where a thirtysomething bourgeois couple spends the summer with its infant, “Lost Song” is principally concerned with the messy details of bringing up baby. Parents will find the film’s observations to be acute, if not acrid; buyers will likely flinch.
Jean, an Acadian from New Brunswick whose previous features are “Full Blast” and “Yellowknife,” orchestrates subtle variations in cinematography and sound to convey a perspective on family life that shifts as mercurially as its characters’ moods. All elements of the Canadian helmer’s varied background — in biology, sociology, choreography and documentary — are present in “Lost Song,” which in its harshest moments carries a primal force.
The relationship between Elisabeth (Suzie LeBlanc) and Pierre (Patrick Goyette) appears strained from the film’s first scene of the couple driving to the country, then gradually moreso as he leaves each morning for work while she’s left behind with wailing Michel. A professional singer, Elisabeth displays behavior that fluctuates widely — at one point roughly yanking the power plug on a lamp, as if expressing her seething resentment of her women’s lot.
The fundamental mysteries of Elisabeth’s psychological state are complicated further by her relationship to a younger neighbor, Naomi (Marilou Longpre Pilon), with whom she shares cigarettes and an undefined attraction. The baby’s paternal grandmother (Ginette Morin) among the minimal cast of characters adds age to gender and sexuality on the film’s provocatively short list of influential factors.
Expressive lensing by Mathieu Laverdiere uses natural light and the woodsy surroundings to point up the uncivilized dimensions of the characters, including the unappealingly macho Pierre. Sound by Gilles Corbeil is attenuated to include the faint cries a parent can be biologically engineered to detect, as well as noises from the cabin’s attic that rattle the heroine’s psyche.
Moments of mild humor are used sparingly by Jean to relieve mounting tension, but in general the film builds to a nerve-wracking and, ultimately, devastating point. Acting by Goyette and LeBlanc remains sensitive to the possibilities of both revelation and ambiguity. In the pivotal role of the baby Michel, twins Louis Lafreniere-Audette and Charles Lafreniere-Audette perform beautifully.