Director Bernard Émond’s film La Donation isn’t for everyone. It’s weighty with religious themes, and the flat tone adopted by many of the characters may leave some viewers glancing at their watches far more often than they’d like. But those willing to hang tough may find some rays of light in the midst of the gloom.
Jacques Godin’s performance as Dr. Yves Rainville is pitch-perfect. He’s exactly the sort of steadfast but kindly person I picture every small town doctor to be like.
I wasn’t as big a fan of Elise Guilbault, who plays Dr. Jeanne Dion in the film. She’s a good actress, but she doesn’t have the same screen presence as Godin. To be fair to her though, her character doesn’t feel as fleshed out. This film is actually the third part of a trilogy, and the Dion character apparently featured more heavily in the first part, La Neuvaine (The Novena). So those more familiar with that film may have an easier time understanding the character.
The film tries to tie in the theme of a town carved out of nature being swallowed back up by nature, but doesn’t quite carry it off. There’s an offhand speech delivered to this effect by a minor character, and various shots of the wind whistling through the trees, but it winds up feeling a little like a haphazard afterthought.
Of the handful of reviews I’ve read so far, Brendan Kelly’s review in The Montreal Gazette most closely matches my opinions. He notes some of the films problems stem from, “a troubling tendency to sacrifice human drama in favour of the big theological questions.” He gives the example of Dion’s relationship to a local baker, and I agree this definitely felt a little tacked on and didn’t seem to emerge organically from the script.
Despite these shortcomings, I generally enjoyed the film and its minimalist style. The permanently overcast sky and the nearly empty streets set a rather oppressive tone, but the subject of the film is far from sunny, so it works. In true indie-film style, the end of La Donation brings no sense of finality or resolution. One simply gets the sense that life in the small town of Normétal will go on.
La Donation was chosen as the final film of the year to be screened by the Quinte Film Alternative here in Belleville. For the full story of the QFA’s year wrap-up, as well as interviews with board members Lynn Braun and Maury Flunder, check The Quinte Arts Examiner.