In the initial months and years “post-Garden State” Zach Braff was considered by some to be one of the movie industry’s hottest properties. But, instead of capitalising on the film’s crossover success, Braff seemed to got stuck in a J.D.-fueled rut as he went through the motions as Scrubs played out to a dreary conclusion last May.
A cursory glance through Braff’s bio shows he has kept himself busy with other work away from the Scared Heart Hospital since “having his life changed” back in 2004. He’s shown up in two instantly-forgettable movies, opened a restaurant, directed some music videos and done some theatre. But it looks like he’s finally committed to working a little bit more, what with this appearance in The High Cost of Living, next year’s The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea and the fact he may actually get around to making his sophomore directorial effort, Open Hearts, a movie that he’s been promising audiences since 2006.
And so on to the actual movie review part of the movie review. Well surmise what you like from the evidence that most features and promotion to date have just talked about Zach Braff’s return to the big-screen. Add in the fact that, despite winning best Canadian first feature at TIFF 2010, it has taken over seven months to hit screens here. Aaaaand also throw its place in the crowded straight-to-VOD market in the US (the current on-demand equivalent to the straight-to-video clunkers of yesteryear).
Thankfully The High Cost of Living is actually far better than it has any right to be. The central conceit of a woman losing her baby in a road accident and forming a relationship with the man responsible for the hit-and-run is ludicrous and rendered believable only by the stellar work of Braff and Isabelle Blais in the lead roles of Henry and Nathalie.
The idea of finding solace and comfort after a bereavement from the person responsible for that grief is hardly anything new, indeed John Cameron Mitchell’s adaptation of Rabbit Hole where Nicole Kidman’s Becca reaches out to the teen who killed her son is a fine recent example. But to tackle the inverse scenario where the perpetuator of the act befriends the victim was never going to be easy. Director Deborah Chow, making her feature debut, allows the film to straddle the lines of implausibility through-out, struggling to deal with the grief, guilt and melodrama that should also be coming in to play.
Montreal looks great, the cold dark streets acting as a great backdrop to the relationship that unfolds. The city’s un-easy bilingual culture is reflected in Henry’s joke that since coming north from New York his lack of French or a VISA means he’s limited to working as a locksmith for Chinese restaurateurs. (for the record, the film is about 60/40 English/French but we get pas de mots from JD).
So while Chow could have picked a better script and premise to work with, she really does excel in capturing the city and the film’s central performances, firmly positioning herself on the ones to watch list.
This French production, filmed in Tuscany, sees Juliette Binoche playing an antique shop owner, Elle, take an art historian on a trip to a neighbouring village. The art historian, James, played by newcomer William Shimell, has written a book on original work and replicas, questioning whether there is really all that much difference if the end result is so similar.
Elle and James meet as strangers, but by the end of the film are acting like they’ve been married for 15 years, carrying all the pain, joy and distorted memories that a union like that will have brought them. Whether they’re replicating the human behaviour of strangers or spouses is never explained and we’re probably never meant to know which one is the true reality.
Kiarostami, making his first drama feature outside Iran, asks more questions that he bothers to answer. Scenes manage to be awkward and mesmerising at the same time and as the film’s closing credits roll over the backdrop of the village skyline, you’re left truly baffled.
While last year’s Palme D’or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was deliberately wacky and “out there”, you do wonder whether Certified Copy, its fellow entry for the prize, was ever intended to be quite so bewildering and divisive for audiences.
But for better or worse, for the full duration of the film’s 108minute running time we’re drawn in, searching for clues to the truth behind the film’s central relationship and questioning whether we’re all just being forced to play a part in a much larger trick of the mind.