You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Walk Away Renee

Helmer Jonathan Caouette's account of his relationship with his mentally ill mother.

With: Jonathan Caouette, Renee Leblanc, Adolph Davis, David Sanin Paz, Joshua Caouette, Rosemary Davis. (English dialogue)

Helmer Jonathan Caouette describes his sophomore follow-up to his autobiographical debut, “Tarnation,” as an “equal” rather than a sequel. But sadly, “Walk Away Renee” is the lesser film. There are lovely and affecting moments in this account of his life and his relationship with his mentally ill mother, Renee Leblanc, which further underscore Caouette’s considerable and innovative talent as a filmmaker. His ambition to extend his range with more scripted material here is even laudable, but it’s precisely this element that falls flattest and undermines the pic’s commercial potential. Ultimately, “Renee” feels less like a walk away than a retread.

It is a fact universally acknowledged that many helmers have built careers reworking the same movie in barely distinguishable guises. But in this case, “Renee” really does feel something like a remake of “Tarnation,” this time with more budget and less feeling.

Roughly half of the material recounts Renee’s and Jonathan’s life stories, an entwined tale of institutionalization, foster homes and dysfunctional upbringing that would be more heartbreaking if Caouette hadn’t already covered much of the same ground and even used some of the same images and homemovie footage.

The other half follows Caouette in 2010, and essentially updates his and Renee’s stories, revealing that not much has really changed. A large chunk observes (with pro lensers this time round) Caouette taking a road trip in a U-Haul truck with Renee from Houston to New York state so she can stay in an assisted-living facility nearer to him; his partner, David Sanin Paz; and his son, Joshua.

Along the way, the month’s supply of medications necessary to keep Renee on an even keel goes missing, and once again, as in “Tarnation,” Caouette films himself making long phone calls to medical professionals to try to get the prescription refilled. (Per credits, the voices of those professionals he talks to have been redubbed with others’ voices to protect identities.)

Where “Renee” differs most substantially from “Tarnation” is in its use of scripted and phantasmagoric interludes that sit uneasily among the docu elements. Before the road trip, Caouette meets up with a kooky group called the Cloudbusters who want to live in the fourth dimension, and whose clunky thesping give away the game that this part is faked.

The notion of other dimensions and alternative universes crops up again in a TV interview, and the pic even takes time out to go down a CGI rabbit hole, landing back on Earth in some kind of hipster update of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” replete with an effectively droning indie soundtrack. A dream sequence briefly visits an alternative universe where Caouette is the one with schizo-affective disorder, and his mother (played by an actress) is the supposedly sane one.

These sci-fi elements might have taken the pic in a fertile new direction if they’d been more developed, but as it is, they lie inert, adding little to the ballad of Renee and Jonathan, while subtracting potential emotional impact. Structurally, although precisely edited within individual sequences — especially within the musical montages — the pic is all over the place. Even the ending feels unsatisfying, especially since it leaves unanswered how Caouette will deal with the climactic dilemma one doctor presents to him about Renee’s care.

On the upside, both subjects remain engaging, likable presences even when Renee is at her most manic and disturbed. Anyone who’s had to care for a sick parent won’t fail to be moved by his gentle devotion to his mother, even those who might feel more uncomfortable about the appropriateness of filming her at all, given her frequent confusion about what’s going on around her.

Caouette’s great taste in music, evinced in “Tarnation” and further proved by his work on docu “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” reps one of the pic’s saving graces.

Popular on Variety

Walk Away Renee


Production: A Morgane Prod., Polyester, Love Streams Agnes B. Prods., Hummingbird 72 presentation. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Gerard Lacroix, Gerard Pont, Pierre-Paul Puljiz, Agnes B., Christophe Audeguis, Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Jonathan Caouette. Directed, written by Jonathan Caouette.

Crew: Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Noam Roubah, Andres Peyrot, Jason Banker, Jorge Torres; editor, Brian McAllister; music supervisor, Simon Raymonde; sound (Dolby Digital), Damien Guillaume; supervising sound editor, Guillaume; re-recording mixer, Jerome Wiciak; special effects supervisors, Robert Morris, McAllister; line producers, Catherine Rouault, Jason Yamas. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week, Special Screenings), May 14, 2011. Running time: 81 MIN.

With: With: Jonathan Caouette, Renee Leblanc, Adolph Davis, David Sanin Paz, Joshua Caouette, Rosemary Davis. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Joker Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

    Box Office: Villains Face Off Again as 'Joker' and 'Maleficent' Battle for First Place

    Despite three new nationwide releases, domestic box office charts look to be dominated by holdovers — Warner Bros.’ “Joker” and Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” — during the last weekend in October. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted last weekend with $36 million in North America, enough to dethrone “Joker” after the super-villain origin story’s back-to-back [...]

  • Yasushi Shiina

    Tokyo Market is Finding New Strengths, Says Yasushi Shiina

    Clouds on the global economic horizon and disruption to the scheduling of the event, have done little to dampen the interest of foreign visitors to TIFFCOM, Japan’s biggest film and TV market. Especially those from China, says market head, Yasushi Shiina. The market is again running at the Sunshine City shopping, entertainment and business complex [...]

  • "Weathering With You" directed by Makoto

    Toho Unveils Dual Media Romance 'Love Me, Love Me Not' at Tokyo Market

    Japan’s biggest film company, which produces, distributes and exhibits its own product in partnership with leading media companies, Toho has brought a line-up to TIFFCOM full of present and future hits. The biggest is “Weathering with You,” the love story animation by Makoto Shinkai that surpassed the $100 million mark only a month after its [...]

  • Hit Me Anyone One More Time

    TIFFCOM: Pony Canyon Saddles up FujiTV's Smash 'Hit Me Anyone'

    One of Japan’s five major broadcast networks, Fuji TV has also been a pioneer and leader among the networks in feature film production. This year at TIFFCOM long-time partner Pony Canyon is representing Fuji TV films that have recently hit number one at the Japanese box office. Among the hottest, with three straight weeks atop [...]

  • Martin Scorsese Avengers

    Are Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola Right About Marvel? (Column)

    If you want to shoot holes in the comments that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola made recently about Marvel movies (Scorsese: “That’s not cinema”; Coppola: “Martin was being kind when he said it wasn’t cinema. He didn’t say it was despicable, which is what I say”), then go right ahead, because they’ve practically handed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content