Congo's abstract dimension

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      TORONTO–Making movies can be a bonding experience for members of the cast and crew. There's nothing like working long hours in sometimes intense, sometimes painfully boring conditions to inspire familial feelings on set. Take director Philippe Falardeau and actor Paul Ahmarani. They have worked on two films together and, today, sitting in a Toronto hotel room, seem more like brothers than coworkers. In fact, it seems like they might start wrestling on the floor at any minute.

      "Some people mistake us for one another because of our voices," Falardeau says.

      "Yeah, we have the same voice," Ahmarani says in an identical French-Canadian voice.

      "But," Falardeau says, "it's very easy to tell who is who because I say more intelligent things. At least for today. Tomorrow, I'll be the stupid one."

      Their latest collaboration is Congo ­rama, which opens in Vancouver on Friday (March 30). The film was shot in Belgium and Canada and follows the story of Michel (Olivier Gourmet), an unsuccessful inventor who faces an identity crisis when he learns that he was not born in Belgium, as he had always assumed, but in a barn in Quebec, adopted by the man he thought was his father. Michel sets out for the little backwater town of his birth in hopes of finding his real family, but with no success. On his way out of town he gets a ride from a mysterious man named Louis (Ahmarani), who crashes his homemade hybrid car, which causes a series of events that drastically changes their lives–not to mention the entire car industry.

      It's an oddball script, so idiosyncratic you might be inclined to think it was based on real life. But according to Falardeau, he made it all up. "The only link in my life is my fascination with engineers; the main character is an engineer," he says. "Look at the world we live in; look around us–look what you're holding, the tape recorder, the building we're in, the cars, electricity–everything is thought up by engineers. The rest of the movie is purely fictional."

      Ahmarani interjects. "Can I talk about your life a little bit?" he asks Falardeau. "When Philippe toured for The Left Side of the Fridge [the first film they made together], a lot of people told him that I look Belgian, like a Belgian actor. Philippe was hearing that story over and over and decided to do something about Belgium."

      But what does the movie have to do with the Congo?

      "Congorama is the first word I wrote on the paper when I was doing some research about Belgium," Falardeau says. "I learned about the Brussels World's Fair in '58, and I found out about this light-and-sound show called Congo ­rama, and I thought it sounded great. It had this oldish kind of sound and a poetic dimension to it. In the film, I think Congorama has as much to do with the Congo as Roman Polanski's Chinatown had to do with China. It's an abstract dimension in which all the characters meet but never go."

      In the film, the Michel character has a connection to the Congorama exhibit at the Brussels World's Fair.

      "Universal expositions are a particular place and time when the world converges suddenly," Ahmarani says. "I know people whose parents met at Expo '67 in Montreal. The guy came from the Netherlands, met a Quebec girl, stayed in Canada, had one of my best friends. It's a special place and time where the world converges”¦I see those two expositions in the scenario like gates–like space gates where things connect," he says, laughing.

      "I think it's my contemporary view on what we call globalization," Falardeau says. "Everybody is talking about globalization today as a political or economic term, but globalization is about people moving and meeting, and I think it's an imaginative way of looking at a word that's on everybody's lips.

      "So there are a lot of reasons it's called Congorama," he continues. "But at the same time, it's a false”¦ Uh, une faux piste." He looks at his friend for help.

      "A misleading path," Ahmarani says.

      "Yeah," Falardeau agrees. "A misleading path. I just hope people won't think it's a documentary about the Congo."

      "On the poster, there's an ostrich," Ahmarani notes.

      "It is not an ostrich," Falardeau interjects. "It's an emu! You should know that."

      "Uh-huh," Ahmarani says. "When you see an emu and the word Congo together, you know something is wrong 'cause there's no emu in Congo, no?"

      "Yeah, but who knows that?"

      "I do. And I'm supposed to be the stupid one. How about that, Mister Smart One?"