The eight films having their New York premieres during MoMA’s annual survey of new Canadian cinema resort alternately to personal drama, political satire and clever genre manipulation, but propose a consistently cynical outlook.
Two entries explore working-class strife, with characters compensating for socio-economic impotence by asserting agency in the ring. The series’ headlining film — Poor Boy’s Game, by director Clement Virgo — stars Danny Glover and Rossif Sutherland (Kiefer’s half brother). The film follows violent outbursts between lower-class black and white communities in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Honoring boxing movie conventions, Virgo’s film is all about men, their bruised egos and quests for affirmation through physical domination. Though more sophisticated than most boxing films, the final image of embracing difference predictably excludes sexual difference.
Le Ring (Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette’s first feature) follows Jessy (Maxime Desjardins-Tremblay), a hardheaded 12-year-old growing up in Montreal’s roughest neighborhood. As his family falls apart, Jessy looks to amateur wrestling as an outlet for his anger, but discovers the matches are rigged. Le Ring ingeniously subverts the boxing trope used in Poor Boy’s Game. When it turns out the rules inside the ring are as unfair and arbitrary as those outside, Jessy looks for more durable solutions than cathartic violence.
The biggest-name offering in Canadian Front, 2008 — except maybe the split-screen psychodrama The Tracey Fragments, starring Juno’s Ellen Page — Denys Arcand’s Days of Darkness also features a besieged Montrealer. Jean-Marc (Marc Labrèche), the middle-aged peon in a monolithic bureaucracy, daydreams of fame while his family plugs into Blackberrys and iPods. This archetypal middle-class-white-man’s anxieties over becoming obsolete produce terrific satire, and some silly set pieces.