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Zack Mosley [Film Festival 12.10.12] Canada drama

Bernard Emond is revered as a master in his native Quebec, but is relatively unknown to the rest of the world. This is the first time I have seen his work. All That You Possess is a richly textured film that few people will see, and even fewer will appreciate.

Pierre Leduc (Patrick Drolet) is a professor of literature and an academic translator who lives in Quebec City. He resigns from his university job to translate the works of Polish poet Edward Stachura, who was hit by a train under mysterious circumstances (wandering on the tracks) and later committed suicide. Pierre translates Stachura's poems into French on spec, even though no Quebecois market exists for the international writer's work. Meanwhile, he begins to give away all of his possessions and wander along train tracks. A portrait emerges of a man who has isolated himself from the world almost completely. Whatever existential crisis he is experiencing inside, his outer self betrays almost no emotion. Patrick Drolet plays Pierre with exactly one facial expression (blank detachment) for most of the movie, but that's the character.

Pierre's carefully insulated existence is disrupted by two unwanted interlopers. First, his father announces that he has terminal cancer, and declares his plans to leave his entire estate (valued in the tens of millions) to his only son. Pierre immediately refuses, seeing his father's corporate fortune as at odds with his Saint Francis of Assisi-style quest. But a large acreage of land in rural Quebec is harder to turn down, considering the deep family roots there. Second, he meets a teenaged daughter that he abandoned in the womb. She's a chip off the old block (she reads Balzac for fun) and despite his best efforts, Pierre finds himself caring for her. His mission to dispense of material things becomes more difficult when a precociously intelligent offspring turns out to be one of those things.

Bernard Emond spoke before the screening about rejection of materialism and the oversaturation of meaningless images in modern culture. All That You Possess reflects these sentiments in both form and content. All excess is pared away from the narrative, leaving only the most meaningful details. The visual style is similarly meticulous, the tone is quiet and restrained. The film feels as deliberately sparse as Pierre's apartment. There are a lot of deep themes to mull over in this story, including the significance of what's passed down from generation to generation, what must be kept and what must be given away. Quebecois films often have a rich sense of place and culture, and this one is no exception. Although I can't read Polish, I also sensed that there was some hidden meaning in Pierre's specific translations of certain lines, revealing the nuanced parallels between his life and the life of Stachura.

Speaking of Stachura, I wasn't all that fond of his poetry, from what I heard. A little flowery, a little too woe-is-me. Get over yourself, Ed! Some viewers may react to this movie in the same way, if they find the slow pace, mopey protagonist, and contemplative subject matter too alienating. Inheriting millions of dollars is a moral problem most of us would like to have, after all. The narrative is not perfect, either. Despite the tight schematics of the storytelling, Emond does occasionally makes a clumsy move. There's a flashback to a fight over an abortion halfway through the movie that seems shoehorned in for expository effect, and until the daughter character arrives to clarify the matter I couldn't tell whether it was even a flashback or just a strange spike in the plot that came out of nowhere.

But these are small flaws in the broad overview, and the audience that this story is intended for will find it satisfyingly weighty. The median age at the screening was probably at least 60, and that sounds about right. All That You Possess addresses problems that can only arise from lives well and thoroughly lived. Only after a wealth of experience do we realize that our possessions are an ineffective shield against our own mortality.

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