VIFF 2012: Canadian Images program explore that Great White North angst
Anxiety, fraud, economic free fall, and the death of the middle class. Of all the movies coming to the Canadian Images program of the Vancouver International Film Festival this year, two of the most notable, in bitterly humorous terms, and on opposite coasts, address the creaking financial strain of life in the Great White North.
In Moving Day, which receives a gala opening on Friday (September 28), Halifax based writer-director Mike Clattenburg gives us four schlubs in the employ of a Dartmouth moving company looking for ways to beat the ever-more-cruel system.
Liquor and compulsive womanizing help A. J. (Gabriel Hogan) get through the day, while Dennis (Jonny Harris) takes refuge in his band, the Sons of Rock (stuck, like the company, in the ’80s—they do a way too reverent cover of “Eye of the Tiger”). But the unexpectedly sentimental film is focused on Will Sasso’s good-natured Clyde, who sums up the state of things when he enviously observes a bunch of city workers on an apparently endless coffee break and says with a sigh: “They start at 16 bucks an hour? That is a dream job.”
Clattenburg’s desperate universe of losers, misfits, dreamers, and drunks—he’s best known as the creator of Trailer Park Boys— becomes ever more refined with Moving Day, as does his ear for profanity that’s inventive to the point of being poetic (“Dennis, go put a hickey on the crack of a monkey’s ass, you greasy bitch,” spits Cedric, played to the hilt by Charlie Murphy [Eddie’s brother]. )
There’s also real poignancy in Clyde’s nightmare-ridden existence, where taking the weekend off to see his kids might cost him his job. “I know some people, and their goal is to just get the weekend off,” Clattenburg says in a call to the Georgia Straight from Halifax. “I mean, I feel lucky. I get to make a living off my imagination, but I did work in these jobs too, before I got to be a filmmaker. I have empathy for people in these positions.”
Significantly, Clattenburg doesn’t ignore the problems faced by the putative authority in this setup. Small-business owner Wilf—given multiple layers of self-awareness by the great Victor Garber—is barely more secure than his employees. “He’s under pressure too, and we realize that a guy like that, on another level, is having incredible difficulties. His complications are the same, they’re just bigger.”
For the titular character in local writer-director Bruce Sweeney’s latest, Crimes of Mike Recket, those complications lead to the bitterest of ends. Sweeney’s film will fascinate anyone crazy enough to buy a house in this part of the world. He calls the film a “neo-noir”, but it might be described better as the first-ever movie in the genre of Vancouver–real-estate horror.
“I have zero problem with that!” Sweeney says, laughing, during a call to the Straight. “It’s part absurdist, too. You get these moments where you’re thinking, ‘Well, what should I be doing here? It’s kind of funny, but I shouldn’t laugh, because it’s a horrifying story underneath everything.’ I felt I was channelling [Luis] Buñuel at times.”
The great Spanish filmmaker would have feasted on Sweeney’s premise, in which a real-estate agent turns to fraud and possibly something much worse as sales dry up and the debts begin to mount.
“This guy, it all came easy and then he kinda lost everything and his life fell apart, and then suddenly he has to think on his feet, and when he does that, it’s a problem because he’s so unprincipled,” Sweeney says, adding that he saw Recket as, “a handsome man but a middle-aged man, the desperation sort of creeps in a bit there”.
As such, Nicholas Lea delivers an astounding performance as the twisty and superficially charming lead, abetted by Gabrielle Rose as his victim. True to form for the aggressively independent filmmaker, Sweeney’s actors and crew made Recket in pure defiance of conventional economics, shooting the $40K film in their own homes whenever chance allowed.
“It’s not about production value,” Sweeney says. “It’s about getting the story out and having a certain veracity—and some continuity errors that you’ll just have to get past.” It only adds to the film’s power. Like the best regional, independent cinema, Crimes of Mike Recket hits you where you live.