And the Birds Rained Down: tender Quebecois film is a gem

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      Starring Gilbert Sicotte. Rated PG

      Louise Archambault’s gently paced and unexpectedly deep new film has a kind of tenderness you don’t often experience in the movies.

      That sensitivity isn’t just apparent in the way the French-Canadian director shoots the conifer forests and the rippling lake where her story’s central trio of grey-bearded hermits like to bathe, bare-assed. It’s the way she eases into their unhurried rhythms and gives the characters the quiet time to breathe and connect.

      It’s slow going, but the payoff resonates all the more for the patience Archambault puts into this poetic and melancholy little chamber piece, one that’s based on the equally small-scaled novel by Jocelyne Saucier. In its nuanced way, the film manages to encompass ideas of time, aging, love, loneliness, euthanasia, and our eco peril, often movingly so.

      Each of the three men has come to live in these shacks in the bush for his own reasons: Charlie (Gilbert Sicotte) fled a cancer diagnosis, bar singer Tom (Rémy Girard) may be trying to distance himself from booze, and Ted (Kenneth Welsh) retreated after losing his family to the Great Fires that ravaged the region unspecified decades ago. They also happen to farm a little weed on the side.

      These men don’t like outsiders. But their bucolic world gets disrupted when visitors arrive, brought by Steve (Éric Robidoux), a young single guy who owns a near-empty hunting lodge hotel nearby and delivers supplies. He brings in his elderly aunt Gertrude (Andrée Lachapelle), who’s refusing to return to her longtime psychiatric facility, and Raf (Ève Landry), a young female photographer looking to take portraits of Great Fire survivors (and thus, Ted).

      Some of the scenario strains believability, not least the supplies and setup the gents enjoy in the woods. But the most touching moments belong to Charlie and Gertrude, who gradually form a bond, him gently showing her how to live life outside the walls of an institution and the pair slowly revealing their backstories at bedtime by a fireplace. Their pairing is nicely offset by the younger Raf and Steve, two other misfits who find a comfortable, if not sexual, bond over pot and horror movies.

      Montreal indie-folk band Will Driving West adds atmosphere to the moody visuals. But what stands out most is the fully fleshed old folks here—figuratively as well as literally. With few words, Sicotte and Lachapelle show stirrings rarely portrayed in the elderly, and not just the erotic kind. The octagenarians’ subtle lessons about living in the moment should translate easily to anyone decades younger.