VQFF 2015: A Parisian's past threatens his present in What We Have

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      What We Have (Ce qu'on a, Canada)

      In French and English, with English subtitles

      French immigrant Maurice, played by writer-director Maxime Desmons, chooses to move to North Bay, Ontario, prompting even its inhabitants to question his choice of relocation. It's quite the cultural shift from Paris, though he doesn't have any trouble getting action. In fact, his French accent makes him the town's new heartthrob.

      His fellow thespian Fanny flirts shamelessly with him. He also rejects a one-night stand who wants something more. But we're not in Paris anymore, Toto—that same man, the bilingual Michael (Jean-Michel Le Gal), turns out to be the head of the theatre company he joins. Oups!

      That interconnected clausterphobia of small-town life is well captured in the storyline.

      Maurice becomes a French tutor for Allan (Alex Ozerov), a shy teenage boy who lacks confidence in his French-speaking ability.

      When Maurice goes swimming, he discovers Allan is on a swim team, and witnesses Allan being bullied by his teammates. Maurice goes one step too far when he gets fed up with the bullies, and Allan takes things one step too far in discussing things with Maurice.

      A synopsis of Korea's A Girl At My Door, also screening this year at VQFF, pretty much sounds identical: a big-city queer moves to small town life to escape the past, tries to protect a youth from being bullied, gets accused of pedophilia. What would've been fresher would've been the post-story of Maurice trying to rebuild his life after the fallout, which is where his real journey begins. The demons of his past, hinted at through flashbacks, are ever-present but we need to see him doing battle with them, rather than merely being haunted by them.

      The tale is competently told but there's a blandness to the proceedings and the performances. What doesn't help is that the cast, unfortunately, is uneven. Le Gal is effective and charismatic as a doting lover and Maurice's volatile theatre castmates provide some spark to the drama. Ozerov only provides a passable performance and lacks chemistry with Desmons. Even more clunky is Roberta Maxwell as a surly, homophobic grandmother who questions the relationship between Maurice and Allan. (Curiously, several of the men have a somewhat similar look, including Michael, a swim coach, and a policeman, leading to potential confusion.)

      In spite of its flaws, the film does sustain interest and there is something captivating and promising about the overall package. There are many interesting ingredients here that could have used further development. Hopefully Desmons will have future opportunities to fully realize the potential he has shown.

      What We Have (Ce qu'on a) screens on August 21 (6:45 p.m.) at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts and 22 (2 p.m.) at Emily Carr University as part of the 2015 Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

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