Fail to Appear

For the next four days, the Northwest Film Forum will run a series, Future//Present, that features a new wave of Canadian filmmakers. I have seen 3 of the 8 films in this program, and what impressed me was not only the raw energy of these works but also how they presented Canadians.

Not too long ago, I decided to listen to a lecture series on the history of the British Empire by professor Patrick N. Allitt, a historian with a very dark sense of humor. A major part of that history is, of course, the history of Canada and its transition from a British colony to an independent nation. There is certainly a lot of contradictions and violence in this history, and also a lot of dead beavers. But what struck me at the end of the lectures is how Canadian Canadians actually are. They really do live in a culture that's in many ways different from that of the US. And the history of that country accounts for much of these differences.

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The films I watched in the Future//Present series reinforced my sense of Canada's Canadian-ness. The feature Fail to Appear, which opens today, has a kind of patience and care of its subject, a mediocre social worker, that's alien to US sensibilities. The writer-director Antoine Bourges understands that the function of the Canadian social worker is not really to solve the problems of those in need of help but to show that the state has done everything it could to help or reform the needy. This is not a critique from the right, but one from the left about how leftist programs can be emptied of meaning and become purely formal. One hears not a single explosion in this otherwise devastating deconstruction of Canadian social services.

What this film shares with others I have seen, such as Never Eat Alone (it has haunting images of Canada's golden age, and this footage is matched with the memories of an elderly Toronto woman), is a kind of contemplative quietness that reveals not so many objects in a space or moment (that's a European kind of thing) but the delicate relations between people who are present and also in the past (that is not a US kind of thing). What is this other sensibility I'm sensing? What can I call it? All I think of for a name is that fantastic place in Nabokov's Ada, Canady.

For more information about this series, which was first presented at the Vancouver International Film Festival, visit Movie Times.

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