A man who has spent most of his life feeling numb to the world has his eyes opened by a brush with tragedy in “8:17 p.m. Darling Street.” The somber existential drama from French-Canadian documaker-turned-feature director Bernard Emond examines how casual events can determine fate and ponders big issues of forgiveness, mercy, faith, self-doubt, addiction and compassion. While it’s somewhat overburdened with voiceover, the film’s strong central perf and sensitive observation should secure it a home on quality foreign-language television schedules.
Reformed alcoholic Gerard (Luc Picard) returns from visiting his ex-wife (Diane Lavallee) to find the block in which he lived demolished by a gas explosion that claimed six lives. Gerard is struck by the fact that he would have been at home had he not bent over to tie his shoelace — which involved him in a minor car accident and resulting argument with the other driver. The delay meant he avoided the catastrophe and Gerard is haunted by the question of why such a worthless life as his would be saved.
A former journalist who specialized in tactless coverage of accident and crime scenes, Gerard’s confused response to the tragedy is not helped by the fire officials and crisis-aid workers, who regard him as a scavenger. His quest for deeper understanding leads him through the low-rent Quebec neighborhood where he grew up, tracing survivors of the accident, unraveling related mysteries and piecing together information about the victims. Struggling to stay on the wagon while absorbing the shock of other people’s losses, Gerard slowly develops a bond with a similarly damaged waitress (Guylaine Tremblay).
Picard’s quiet, pained perf conveys the tightrope walked by the character, whose anger at the random selection of death has colored his own sense of failure and lack of self-worth.
Emond’s intelligent script doesn’t pretend to answer the questions it raises, but coaxes a sense of acceptance in the central character and concludes on an unforced note of fragile hope. Visually and structurally, the film is clean and straightforward.