Emile Carl Bessai

In this moody drama by Carl Bessai, Ian McKellen stars as Emile, a British academic who travels to Victoria, BC to receive an honorary degree, and also to tie up some unresolved family business. Forty years earlier, Emile fled his rural Saskatchewan home, leaving behind two brothers. When both brothers died, Emile was left in charge of his niece Nadia, but he never came to collect her from the orphanage and she grew up lonely and untrusting. When Uncle Emile finally comes to visit, the past is opened up for everyone. The performances in this film are excellent — McKellen as Emile is by turns vulnerable, obnoxious, self-absorbed and heartbreakingly kind. Deborah Kara Unger as the damaged Nadia is like ice — equally cold and fragile. The real find is ten-year-old Theo Crane as her daughter (and also as the young Nadia in flashbacks), who is refreshingly un-cute. The film was not only directed by Bessai but also written and shot, and his cinematography is as good as his direction. The contrasting palettes of past and present, the use of different film speeds and the confident lighting create a wonderful, moody vision, and the director's commentary provides an interesting insight into how it was achieved. The bad news: a film this good deserves a better ending, and sadly Bessai the screenwriter isn't in the same league as Bessai the director or cinematographer. An intriguing story and multifaceted characters degenerate into an oversimplified and wildly unbelievable happy ending. This movie doesn't need to tie everything up neatly, it could just end and we would believe it, but unfortunately, it all gets resolved. It's hard to believe that a situation this complicated and sad could be reversed, instead of just receding further into the past. Plus: director's commentary, "making of" featurette. (Seville)