VIFF 2014: Elephant Song a flawed but engaging cinematic package

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      Elephant Song (Canada)

      It's 1966 and a hospital director, Dr. Green (Bruce Greenwood), and manipulative patient, Michael (Xavier Dolan), engage in a mental poker game when a psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence, vanishes from their mental institution which is already facing a scandal. As Dr. Green attempts to glean information from the seemingly omniscient Michael as to the whereabouts of Dr. Lawrence, Michael (who is gay) ensnares Dr. Green in bluffs and half-truths about the true nature of his relationship to Dr. Lawrence. A concerned head nurse (Catherine Keener), who is also Dr. Green's ex-wife, becomes more emotionally invested than she bargained for. Unfortunately, the reserved character of Dr. Green doesn't offer up enough spark to usurp and expose Michael's Machiavellian weaknesses, deflating narrative tension between the two. The handsomely shot film retains a theatrical feel from its stage-play origins, and Dolan's showy performance doesn't match the nuanced and sophisticated emotional depth of Greenwood and Keener. Nonetheless, the film remains an engaging cinematic package in spite of its flaws.

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