Les Signes Vitaux (Vital Signs) Sophie Deraspe

Les Signes Vitaux (Vital Signs) Sophie Deraspe
If the dominant themes presented within Sophie Deraspe's award-winning sophomore effort Vital Signs are a little stale, treading heavily on the linkages between sex and death, with a cold winter backdrop to drive it home, it's not for lack of competency. She manages a challenging narrative, wherein Simone (Marie-Helene Bellavance), a young Harvard-educated double-amputee, copes with the loss of her mother by volunteering in a palliative care home, watching over people in their final moments. It's not just about this preoccupation with death, or searching for meaning from those close to it; there's a sense of guardedness about Simone as she forges ahead, refusing to cave into a conventional relationship with her fuck buddy Boris (Francis Ducharme). She indulges in carnality with a similar calculated curiosity, looking for answers without letting go or, ironically, experiencing life. It's the sort of stuff handled in any kind of vampire parable or treatise on mortality, but where Deraspe distinguishes herself is in a minimalist handling that respects the audience's deductive skills. True, this is a style common in French-Canadian drama as of late, especially those with female protagonists (such as Derriere Moi and Lost Song), but it's hard to imagine a story this overt in implication being effective with an expository construct or additional metaphor. Each moment is carefully examined, giving us an understanding of Simone's sense of self and external identity mainly through her time alone bathing, dressing or putting on her wooden legs. But where we see her breathing life, albeit without much zeal, the distinction comes from similar stationary shots of those recently deceased, lying still and lifeless. Nothing here is left to the imagination, with final moments captured in as much excruciating detail as the sexuality is explicit. The linkage is clear, as is the implication of a fairly dramatic finale. Much of this is discussed in the extended "Making of" supplement included with the DVD, which is extremely detailed, covering most aspects of production, but unfortunately, it is French-only. (Mongrel Media)