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Gaz Bar Blues

A comedy centered on the denizens of a rundown Montreal gas station, "Gaz Bar Blues" is an amiable enough time-passer that's unlikely to travel far beyond Quebec pit stops. Film lacks the strong personality of helmer Louis Belanger's debut feature, the dark love story "Post Mortem," and is too weakly developed to sustain its two-hour running time.

A loosely structured, light character comedy centered on the denizens of a rundown Montreal gas station, “Gaz Bar Blues” is an amiable enough time-passer that’s unlikely to travel far beyond Quebec pit stops. Pic proved a popular, if very provincial, opener at this year’s Montreal fest, where auds appreciated the colorful Quebecois dialogue and lead perf of popular actor Serge Theriault. However, film lacks the strong personality of helmer Louis Belanger’s debut feature, the weirdly dark love story “Post Mortem” (1999), and is too weakly developed to sustain its almost two-hour running time.

Set in 1989 and early 1990, film opens with a hold-up in which gas station owner Francois Brochu (Theriault) is held at gunpoint by a masked robber (Yves Belanger). Francois’ life flashes before his eyes, a shot rings out and the film restarts a few months earlier.

Francois, known popularly as “Le Boss,” has run the small filling station-cum-neighborhood cafe (a “gaz bar” in local slang) for 15 years, with his three sons and a friend, Gaston (Gilles Renaud).

Francois’ eldest son, Rejean (Sebastien Delorme), devotedly helps out his father but secretly dreams of traveling the world as a photographer. Middle son Guy (Danny Gilmore) is always skipping work to play harmonica at jazz gigs, and the youngest, 14-year-old Alain (Maxime Dumontier), is considered too young to help out at the gas station.

The gaz bar also doubles as a social center for local types who spend the day outside jawing, smoking and watching the world go by. And the world is turning: Self-service stations are springing up and threatening the gaz bar’s business, while in Germany, the Berlin Wall is about to fall. However, Francois, who’s developed early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, won’t change his traditional ways or invest a cent in upgrading the station.

There’s no plot as such, more just a collection of incidents. Rejean berates his dad for always sticking up for local punks; a drug pusher (Vincent Bilodeau) tries to sell Guy some wares; Rejean goes off to witness the fall of the Wall; Guy, fired by his dad, goes AWOL from the family; and Alain is finally given a measure of responsibility.

After some rather forced parallels between Rejean’s experiences in Europe and the gaz bar’s own looming fate, pic finally wends its way back to the opening scene, with a nicely understated coda.

Though Theriault is hugely popular with Quebec auds, viewers unfamiliar with his stature as a legit and TV comedian won’t get quite the same buzz from his perf. Serious and low-key, his character simply doesn’t hold together the rambling structure.

In many respects, Delorme’s Rejean is the most interesting of the protags and he disappears from the movie for most of the second half. As the energetic youngest son, Dumontier makes a strong impression, and the supporting roles of the gaz bar’s regular slackers are well cast, if fuzzily written.

Film is almost exclusively a male affair, but comes up with no special insights into men’s life without women. Fanny Mallette, one of Quebec’s interesting younger actresses, can’t do much with her few scenes as Francois’ daughter, Nathalie.

Tech credits are solid, but with no special look, and period detail is OK. Also, for a film set in Montreal in and around the winter of 1989-90 there’s a singular lack of snow or freezing weather.

Gaz Bar Blues

Canada

  • Production: An Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm release of a Film Tonic presentation of a Coop Video de Montreal, Les Prods. 23 production. (International sales: Film Tonic, Montreal.) Produced by Lorraine Dufour. Executive producer, Real Chabot. Directed, written by Louis Belanger.
  • Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Jean-Pierre St.-Louis; editor, Lorraine Dufour; art director, Jean-Pierre Paquet; costume designer, Sophie Lefebvre; sound (Dolby Digital), Gilles Corbeil, Hans Peter Strobl; assistant director, Carole Doucet. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Aug. 27, 2003. Running time: 115 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Serge Theriault, Gilles Renaud, Sebastien Delorme, Danny Gilmore, Maxime Dumontier, Fanny Mallette, Gaston Caron, Gaston Lepage, Daniel Gadouas, Claude Legault, Real Bosse, Yves Belanger, Roger Leger, Vincent Bilodeau, Daniel Briere, Daniel Rousse. (French dialogue)