Two adult brothers help their widower father move on after a tragic work-related accident, and in the process find new directions for their own lives, in the poignant, low-key drama “Camion.” Confident helming, spot-on performances, and a closely observed look at a specific Canadian culture lend Quebecois multihypenate Rafael Ouellet’s fourth feature singularity and emotional resonance despite some familiar themes. Expect significant festival mileage for this tender but unsentimental pic, which nabbed director kudos and the ecumenical jury award in Karlovy Vary. French-Canadian rollout through K-Films Amerique begins Aug. 17.
When Germain (Julien Poulin), a 60-year-old trucker transporting timber in rural Quebec, is involved in a head-on collision with a car that appears out of nowhere, he is devastated even though the accident is not his fault. His depression deepens when he learns the other driver is dead.
Germain’s son Samuel (Patrice Dubois), a Montreal janitor, is alarmed to receive a message from his proud, independent father that contains an atypical admission of vulnerability. That spurs Samuel to track down his footloose older brother, Alain (Stephane Breton), in small-town New Brunswick and persuade him to join in for a visit to their old man.
Ouellet (who also served as editor) incorporates small mysteries into his spare narrative structure that compel audiences to be active viewers. For instance, it isn’t immediately clear how the three men, at first shown living very separate lives, are related, although by the pic’s conclusion, auds understand the initial cross-cutting among their stories as a metaphor for the frayed familial bonds. Likewise, in the beginning, there are allusions to unexplained events in the brothers’ pasts. But as Samuel and Alain reunite, later joining their father, we learn more about the circumstances that have hindered them from settling down.
Perhaps the pic’s strongest suit is the way Ouellet etches the milieu of capable, emotionally closed, Catholic working-class men. These are guys who know their way around hunting rifles and automotive repair, and have forests and long-distance driving in their blood. Of course, it is a world he knows well, given that he hails from Degelis (one of the pic’s locations) along the border of Quebec and New Brunswick, and grew up with a truck-driver father and uncles.
The underlying theme of work and what it means to these men is driven home with a notable amount of screentime given to manual labor depicted in docu-like detail. In addition to Germain readying his load of timber, Samuel cleaning and servicing his Montreal high-rise after the office workers have gone home and Alain restoring his father’s damaged truck to working order, we see the careful, focused way the paramedics function at the accident scene, and the quiet efficiency of staff at a rural hospital. Although in other hands, this all might have seemed forced, here it deepens the rhythm and tone of the film.
Thesping by the well-cast central trio is aces, with Noemie Godin-Vigneau making a strong impression as Samuel’s onetime girlfriend.
Sensitive lensing by Genevieve Perron that captures the rough beauty of the landscapes leads the strong tech package. The delicate, melancholy score by Viviane Audet and Robin-Joel Cool (who has a bit part as one of Alain’s old pals) sets the mood without pandering.