Published Apr 02, 2013The titular Ésimésac (Nicola-Frank Vachon) is the youngest child of a poor rural family in mid-19th Century Quebec—Saint-Élie-de-Caxton, to be exact. Though visibly larger and more adult than his younger peers, his physical distinctions and lack of a shadow are what make him special amidst his small community of struggling farmers and shopkeepers.
Noting a disproportionate disbursement of wealth—Riopel (Gildor Roy), the hulking local blacksmith with a prominent shadow earns money creating bombshells for the war—he develops a grassroots Communist plan to have everyone in the town collectively farm together to develop more substantive crops for the community.
As told through the magical realist, distinctly Quebecois, filter of Luc Picard, this bit of political idealism is transparent for what it is, regardless of the mythological building of the shadow metaphor. And though this cutesy little family-friendly parable is initially just a harmless bit of didactic, Picard takes things a step further when the railroad comes to town, promising riches if the locals are able to work together and build a stop to connect their community to the rest of the world.
From here, the inevitable tragedy starts to take shape with Ésimésac becoming increasingly arrogant when lured by the promises of capitalism, working with Riopel despite protests from his friends and love interest (Marie Brassard). And while the exploitation of the working class propels thing towards an obvious conclusion, Ésimésac's older—but physically younger—sister (Sophie Nélisse) slowly starves to death and starts growing feathers.
Ignoring some of the gaps in polemical posturing, the real issue with Ésimésac is its preoccupation with pedagogy. There are fantastical elements aplenty—Ésimésac's shadow grows as he becomes more authoritative and preoccupied with hierarchical structures—but they tend to come off as thinly veiled, clumsy masks for the message.
The characters and events are merely ciphers and vessels for a commentary on modern undergraduate ethos, making the entire thing a bit of a painful ordeal for anyone not preoccupied with having their mostly ubiquitous worldview validated.
Picard makes little effort to open up the dialogue for greater interpretation or to allow things to work convincingly in a surface capacity, leaving the film as a whole to be little more than twee self-indulgence.
It's really quite a shame since the cast of actors are all far more talented than this material allows for. (eOne)