You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Auction’ (Le Demantelement)

A film whose measured pace and minimal conflict seem better suited to pastoral living than arthouse viewing.

Sebastien Pilote
With: Gabriel Arcand, Gilles Renaud, Lucie Laurier, Sophie Desmarais, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Dominique Leduc, Gabriel Tremblay, Marc-Antoine Beliveau, Normard Carriere, Claude Desjardins, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Michel Daigle. (French dialogue)

The same long-suffering quality that allowed a salt-of-the-earth Canadian to singlehandedly maintain the family farm for decades ultimately enables him to put the entire property up for sale in “The Auction,” a film whose measured pace and minimal conflict seem better suited to pastoral living than arthouse viewing. In an interview with the pic’s Cannes Critics’ Week programmers, writer-director Sebastien Pilote (“The Salesman”) likened the put-upon old father to Shakespeare’s Lear or Balzac’s Pere Goriot, though the comparisons suggest the potential for greater incident and interaction between characters. Ultimately, the melancholy film will sow its elegiac impact in fest fields.

A forlorn loner, Gaby Gagnon (Gabriel Arcand, a Genie winner for “The Decline of the American Empire”) is a man of few words, nearly content sharing his home with no one but his sheepdog, and tending to a farm that has afforded him just three days’ vacation in the past 40 years. It’s a quiet, Sisyphean existence, as he works dawn ’til dusk tending his flock, mending fences and otherwise keeping up the property that his two brothers abandoned long ago. Virtually his only visitor is his accountant, Louis (Gilles Renaud), who urges Gaby to modernize, bringing him a refurbished computer he never so much as uses.

The only companionship Gaby seems to crave is that of his two daughters, who have abandoned this rural lifestyle in favor of big-city Montreal. The younger, Frederique (Sophie Desmarais), is trying to make it as an actress, while older sister Marie (Lucie Laurier) is having trouble with her marriage and pays a rare visit to her dad to ask for a $200,000 loan, oblivious to the fact that her father’s farm can barely sustain itself these days. And yet, he promises to come through all the same, notifying Louis, contacting an auction house and renting a small social-housing flat in town, indifferent to the sacrifice and determined to assist.

What follows is a naturalistic account of the various steps required for Gaby to extricate himself from the life he’s followed for the past 60-odd years — the ritual dismantling of a routine that otherwise would have occupied him until frailty made it impossible to rise at dawn and see to his sheep. Pilote indulges no subplots, privileges no flashbacks and fails to recognize (or simply rejects) that a dose of carefully deployed humor would’ve made the entire experience more palatable.

Apart from the melancholy impact of composer Serge Nakauchi-Pelletier’s steel-guitar score and the occasional breathtaking glimpses of Gaby’s land — too hilly to support crops and surely too beautiful to surrender — the director resists romanticizing the situation, focusing on quotidian farming details and the steps necessary to retire from that lifestyle. Once made, the farmer’s decision can’t be undone, and all that remain are logistics (plus one last-ditch detour to reconnect with his ex-wife of 20 years).

As a filmgoing experience, “Le Demantelement” barely feels adequate to sustain its 111-minute running time, and yet, by the end, the sheer emotional weight of Gaby’s gesture can be felt — an impact the film leaves on its audience in the days that follow. One could easily be reminded of Shel Silverstein’s heartbreaking “The Giving Tree”; were this a fable, Gaby might have chosen instead to sell his own organs in order to support his daughter, so vitally does her request impact his soul. In one nearly unbearable scene, knowing the new apartment doesn’t accept pets, Gaby drives his perfectly healthy dog to the shelter and pays the $25 to have her put down. Surely no one wants to see that on a Friday night — and yet, who could ever forget it?

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Auction' (Le Demantelement)

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week), May 17, 2013. Running time 111 MIN. (Original title: “Le Demantelement”)

Production: (Canada) A Les Films Seville presentation of a Les Films Seville, Acpav production in association with Sodec, Telefilm Canada, Quebec Credit d’Impot Cinema et Television, Fonds Cogeco, Canadian Film or Video Prod. Tax Credit, Fonds Harold Greenberg in collaboration with Super Ecran, Societe Radio-Canada and the participation of Technicolor Creative Services Canada. (International sales: Entertainment One, Toronto.) Produced by Bernadette Payeur, Marc Daigle.

Crew: Directed, written by Sebastien Pilote. Camera (color, widescreen), Michel La Veaux; editor, Stephane Lafleur; music, Serge Nakauchi-Pelletier; art director, Mario Hervieux; costume designer, Sophie Lefebvre; sound (Dolby SR-D), Gilles Corbeil, Olivier Calvert, Stephane Bergeron; visual effects supervisor, Jean-Francois Verland; visual effects, Alchemy 24; associate producer, Robert Lacerte.

With: With: Gabriel Arcand, Gilles Renaud, Lucie Laurier, Sophie Desmarais, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Dominique Leduc, Gabriel Tremblay, Marc-Antoine Beliveau, Normard Carriere, Claude Desjardins, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Michel Daigle. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

  • Bull

    Annie Silverstein's 'Bull' Takes Top Awards, Robert Pattinson Starrer 'The Lighthouse' Wins Jury Prize at Deauville

    Annie Silverstein’s feature debut “Bull” swept three awards at the 45th Deauville American Film Festival, including the Grand Prize, the Revelation Prize for best first film and the Critics’ Prize. “Bull,” a portrait of a rebellious teenage girl from South Texas, world premiered at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard and marks Silverstein’s follow up to her [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content