×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Elephant Song’

Fine performance aside, Charles Biname's screen version of Nicolas Billon's play remains entirely stagebound.

With:
Bruce Greenwood, Xavier Dolan, Carrie-Anne Moss, Guy Nadon, Colm Feore, Catherine Keener, Gianna Corbisiero, Cindy Sampson, Larry Day, Melody Godin-Cormier.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3754976/

“Elephant Song” is a suspense drama with the talky, overly schematic feel of a clever stage play unnecessarily translated to the bigscreen — which is exactly what it is. Quebecois helmer Charles Biname’s English-language pic about the cat-and-mouse games between an insidious patient and a mental-hospital director investigating a shrink’s disappearance is well acted and directed, but never feels at home in its adopted medium. Despite its widescreen lensing, it’s clearly destined for the tube, to which its strengths and limitations alike are better suited.

After a short prologue depicting a boy being ignored by his famous opera-singer mother in 1947 Cuba, where she’s holding a recital, the pic flashes forward to an unnamed Canadian city in 1966. There, one Dr. Lawrence (Colm Feore) is stirring anxiety among his fellow staffers at a hospital, having not shown up for work. He vanished the prior day after an appointment with longtime patient Michael (Xavier Dolan), who has hinted he knows where the missing doc is. Staff chief Dr. Green (Bruce Greenwood), an administrator who seldom sees patients despite his psychiatric qualifications, is tasked with coaxing this intel from the young man, whose history he’s unfamiliar with. Having forgotten his reading glasses, he can’t read the lad’s case file anyway.

Green has already been warned by Nurse Peterson (Catherine Keener) that his subject is a compulsive, devious game player, and as one of several conditions for his cooperation, Michael insists the doctor keep that file shut, to level the playing field between them. So “Elephant Song” (so named because Michael has a fetish for elephant lore, later explained by another childhood flashback) becomes one of those narratives in which a supposedly brilliant madman toys with an authority figure as long as he can, parceling out the occasional truth amid red herrings to keep the fun going. In such stories, the authority figure invariably succumbs all too easily to tricks that seem fairly obvious to the audience — especially when he or she is a psychiatrist, a profession whose rather strict ethics seem to crumble onscreen as easily as week-old toast.

Apparently nurses, too, lose their moral bearings at the drop of a hat, since by merely eavesdropping, Michael seems to know everything about Dr. Green, including the fact that, until three years ago, he was married to Nurse Peterson, and that the loss of a child drove them apart. (In a poorly integrated subplot presumably not in the play, we also glimpse Green’s unhappy current home life with Carrie-Anne Moss as a pushily self-centered second wife.)

Moderately intriguing if never very suspenseful, “Elephant Song” is framed by sequences of Green and Peterson being interviewed separately by an outside investigator, well after the nearly real-time session that constitutes the majority of the running time. But various chronological gambits and other attempts to open up a story clearly shaped for the stage only do so much to camouflage that original format in Nicolas Billon’s adaptation of his own play. Likewise, helmer Biname tries to make things as cinematically fluid as possible, but there’s only so much he can do when the gist here is two people in a room talking.

Though the character writing occasionally strains credulity — would these middle-aged hospital veterans be so easily rattled by Michael? — Greenwood and Keener deliver expert performances that get the most out of the somewhat dimensionally challenged figures they play. Apart from Moss’ rather thankless role, supporting turns are well handled as well as brief. As for Dolan, whose well-received latest film as writer-director (“Mommy”) also screened at Toronto, he gives one of those showy performances in a contrived part that land smack between the entertainingly flamboyant and the annoyingly artificial.

Packaging is solid, with handsome design contributions that are somewhat wasted on this claustrophobic material.

Toronto Film Review: 'Elephant Song'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 6, 2014. Running time: 110 MIN. (Original title: "Le Chanson de Elephant")

Production: (Canada) A Seville Intl. presentation of a Melenny production. (International sales: Seville Intl., Montreal.) Produced by Richard Goudreau, Lenny Jo Goudreau.

Crew: Directed by Charles Biname. Screenplay, Nicolas Billon, from his play "The Elephant Song." Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Pierre Gill; editor, Dominique Fortin; music, Gaetan Gravel, Patrice Dubuc; production designer, Danielle Labrie; costume designer, Ginette Magny; sound, Claude Lahaye, Claude Beaugrand, Luc Boudrias; casting, Lucie Robitaille, Deirdre Bowen, Heidi Levitt.

With: Bruce Greenwood, Xavier Dolan, Carrie-Anne Moss, Guy Nadon, Colm Feore, Catherine Keener, Gianna Corbisiero, Cindy Sampson, Larry Day, Melody Godin-Cormier.

More Film

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Film Review: 'Avengers: Endgame'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.” The culmination of 10 years and more than twice as many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Endgame” promises closure where its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War,” sowed chaos. That film — which revealed that the cookie-cutter uniformity of all those MCU movies had [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Why a $300 Million Opening Could Be Impossible

    “Avengers: Endgame” is preparing for a staggering debut between $250 million and $268 million in North America alone. Unprecedented anticipation surrounding the Marvel juggernaut has some particularly optimistic box office watchers tossing around even higher numbers, estimating the superhero tentpole could clear nearly $300 million in ticket sales in its first three days. If any film [...]

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Nightmare Alley

    Leonardo DiCaprio in Talks to Star in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leonardo DiCaprio is in negotiations to star in Fox Searchlight’s “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water.” Del Toro will direct the pic and co-wrote the script with Kim Morgan. “Nightmare Alley” is being produced and financed by del Toro and J. Miles Dale with TSG Entertainment, with [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck to Star in and Direct World War II Caper 'Ghost Army'

    Ben Affleck will star in and direct the Universal Pictures caper “Ghost Army,” based on the book “The Ghost Army of World War II,” written by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, as well as the documentary “Ghost Army.” It’s unclear when the movie will go into production as it’s still in development and Affleck is [...]

  • Britney Spears Musical

    Britney Spears Musical 'Once Upon a One More Time's' Film Rights Land at Sony

    Sony Pictures has won screen rights to the Broadway-bound “Once Upon a One More Time,” a fairy tale featuring classic songs from Britney Spears, sources have confirmed to Variety. John Davis’ Davis Entertainment will produce the film along with Spears and her manager, Larry Rudolph. Neither a writer nor a director has yet been attached. [...]

  • ‘Girl on the Train’ India Remake

    ‘Girl on the Train’ Indian Remake Set at Reliance Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    India’s Reliance Entertainment will produce the official Indian remake of Tate Taylor’s 2016 film “The Girl on the Train.” Ribhu Dasgupta, who is currently completing Netflix series “Bard Of Blood,” being produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, will direct. Parineeti Chopra (“Kesari”) will star. Production will commence at U.K. locations from mid-July. Based [...]

  • 'Avengers: Endgame' Cast Gets Hands and

    Watch Live: 'Avengers' Cast Gets Hands and Feet Cemented at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood

    The Avengers have left an indelible mark on popular culture and now they are doing the same to the cement floor outside of the TCL Chinese Theater.  Watch the livestream video of “Avengers: Endgame” cast Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans,  Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige imprinting [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content