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Sonatine, a Quebec film from 1982, is one of the oddest productions I've viewed. It is one of those films which should be seen with patience, and open-mindedness, as it is not a story which lends itself to mass appeal. And it also contains a genuinely upsetting and controversial ending.

The film co-stars Pascale Buissures (When Night is Falling), in an early role, as one of two teenage girls both alienated in some way from the world. Each girl attempts, individually, to make any sort of emotional connection with perfect strangers. One girl, the Buissures character, attempts a friendship with a lonely bus driver, whose bus takes her to physiotherapy every Friday. The other girl runs away from home by sneaking into a cargo ship, and by doing so eventually runs into a European crew member, who attempts as best as possible to comfort her.

Each case ends in dissappointment. The bus driver is the more complex of the strangers, and has the most to lose. He clearly has some sort of marital discord, and in one weak moment tells the girl that she is pretty. He is also scrutinize by his fellow employees, who mock him for his solitary behaviour and the presence of the girl. The man on the ship contributes a more symbolic role, as someone who literally can not understand the girl due to the language barrier. He also, despite his attempt at friendship, has to remove the girl from the ship.

These failed attempts force the girls into desperation. In one bold, shocking act, they attempt to demand that the world understand their alienation.

This is an unusually mannered and enigmatic film, especially when you consider the subject matter. The pacing of the story is like few you have seen, for we both see more and less than we expect. The first hour, for example, is very slow and seemingly aimless, as we see the precise development of each girl's attachment to their would-be friends. Yet we are not told exactly why these girls have a need to act out in the way they do. It is a mystery to us, and quite possibly, not fully comprehensible for the people in the film either. We get some indications that all is not right in terms of family relations, but we don't get any speeches onto why it isn't. Overall, there is no powerful or revealing dialouge. We are forced to merely see the actions on the screen, and make our own judgement on them.

Oddly, because the film is so cold and detached, we actually feel more emotion for the girls. We don't understand why they behave the way they do, but we want to. Some of us, perhaps, want to save them from their destruction and lonlieness. Some of us might feel they get what they deserve for what could be interpreted as stupid, self-absorbed adolecence activity. In any case, all we can do is watch in discomfort and horror as they commit that final act of neediness.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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