Oh Canada

Oh Canada
Original title:Oh Canada
Director:Paul Schrader
Running time:91 minutes
Release date:Not communicated
A famous Canadian documentary filmmaker, condemned by illness, grants a final interview to one of his former students, to finally tell the whole truth about his life. A confession filmed before the eyes of his last wife...

Mulder's Review

The film Oh, Canada departs from traditional themes of alienation and self-defense, offering a deeply introspective and warm-hearted portrait of a man coming to terms with his past. Starring Richard Gere as Leonard Fife, a celebrated left-wing documentary filmmaker dying of terminal cancer, the film weaves a complex tale of memories, regrets and fleeting moments of forgiveness.

The film opens with a scene that stands out as one of the warmest of Paul Schrader's career. Leonard Fife is shown sitting in a sunlit restaurant at the magic hour, surrounded by figures from his past. This traditional moment of forgiveness is fleeting, lasting only a few seconds, and sets the tone for the film's exploration of memory and imagined episodes. Paul Schrader's choice to keep this moment brief reinforces its impact, making it almost subliminal amidst the other, more fragmented memories of Leonard's life.

Oh, Canada is rich in autobiographical elements, reflecting Paul Schrader's own life and his friendship with novelist Russell Banks, whose 2021 novel Foregone serves as the film's source material. The story centers on Leonard's life, depicted through a series of loosely associated memories as he is interviewed by a film crew about his career. This narrative device allows Paul Schrader to delve into his own past, confronting personal regrets about his family, career and treatment of his brother, also named Leonard.

The film explores the relationship between Leonard and Malcolm (played by Michael Imperioli), a former student turned documentary filmmaker, who conducts Leonard's final interview. Malcolm's character is downplayed compared to the novel, reflecting Leonard's distrust of his own career and the ethical dilemmas inherent in turning real lives into acclaimed projects. This dynamic introduces a tension between mentor and protégé, as Malcolm seeks to strip away Leonard's drug-induced reveries to gain exclusivity on a legend.

Paul Schrader uses a scenic device for Leonard's interview, reminiscent of Errol Morris techniques, creating a confessional atmosphere. Leonard sits in front of a backdrop, facing a curtained camera, symbolizing his isolation and the barriers he has erected around his true self. This configuration, combined with Paul Schrader's use of a square format for Leonard, visually separates him from the other characters, including his wife Emma (played by Uma Thurman), reinforcing his sense of detachment and isolation.

The film's narrative structure oscillates between present-day interviews and flashbacks, with Jacob Elordi playing a young Leonard. These deliberately shaky transitions underline the disjointed nature of memory, and highlight Leonard's struggle to reconcile his past with his present. Leonard's reflections, delivered in Paul Schrader's characteristically stilted dialogue, reveal a man clinging to his dignity in the midst of physical and emotional decay.

Richard Gere delivers a remarkable performance as the elderly Leonard, highlighting his evolution as an actor. Gere's interpretation is imbued with warmth and vulnerability, making Leonard's inner struggle palpable. His nuanced performance shines in scenes where Leonard's thoughts oscillate between fond memories and harsh self-criticism. Gere's expressive face and subtle body language convey a man grappling with his impending mortality.

Oh, Canada looks at Leonard's past betrayals and abandonments, exploring how these actions have shaped his present. Paul Schrader's narrative suggests that Leonard's journey is not about achieving redemption, but rather the cathartic release of finally confronting his truths. Leonard's reflections on his failed relationships, the abandonment of his son and the fraud he committed as a documentary filmmaker are at the heart of the film's exploration of legacy and self-forgiveness.

Paul Schrader's direction is characterized by meticulous attention to visual detail and narrative complexity. The use of different aspect ratios, color grading and shifting perspectives adds layers to Leonard's fragmented memories. These aesthetic choices reflect Leonard's disoriented state of mind and reinforce the film's introspective nature. The film's visual style, combined with Paul Schrader's sober, contemplative rhythm, creates a powerful meditation on memory and mortality.

Oh, Canada is a profound exploration of one man's confrontation with his past, set against the backdrop of Paul Schrader's personal reflections. The film's ambiguous final image, which brings together Leonard's glories and regrets, can be interpreted as a poignant farewell from both Leonard and Paul Schrader. This ambiguity reflects the complex nature of memory and the human condition, leaving the audience to ponder the intertwining triumphs and failures of life.

Oh, Canada is more than the story of a dying man; it's Paul Schrader's cinematic meditation on legacy, regret and the possibility of finding peace in one's final moments. The film prompts viewers to reflect on their own lives and the choices they have made, underlining the importance of facing one's past with honesty and humility before it's too late.

Oh, Canada
Written and directed by Paul Schrader
Based on Foregone by Russell Banks
Produced by Tiffany Boyle, David Gonzales, Meghan Hanlon, Scott LaStaiti, Luisa Law
Starring Richard Gere, Jacob Elordi, Uma Thurman, Victoria Hill, Michael Imperioli, Penelope Mitchell, Kristine Froseth
Cinematography : Andrew Wonder
Edited by Benjamin Rodriguez Jr.
Music by Phosphorescent
Production companies : Foregone Film PSC, Fit Via Vi Film Productions, Lucky 13 Productions, Ottocento Films, SIPUR, Vested Interest
Release date : May 17, 2024 (Cannes)
Running time : 91 minutes

Seen on May 25, 2024 at Gaumont Opéra Premier, Room 1

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