Thursday, September 17, 2009

La Donation

Seeking to escape her own personal demons, Dr. Jeanne Dion (Élise Guilbault) travels to the remote town of Normétal in northern Quebec to stand in for Dr. Yves Rainville (Jacques Godin), the local physician, while he takes a month's vacation. Rainville has an intimate connection to all his patients, many of whom he personally delivered, and it's not long before Dion soon shares that connection. But that personal involvement can weigh heavy as she deals with cases involving cancer, abortion, drugs, and simple old age. Dion must struggle with the decision to stay on in the small former company town on the downslope, or to go.

La Donation is a wonderful, emotional film that shows the challenge and the enlightenment that Dion gets from the people she sees and treats. The town and its denizens are portrayed in an honest, unvarnished light that shows both their hope and their despair. Both Élise Guilbault and Jacques Godin give strong performances from director/writer Bernard Émond's script that balances their professional exteriors with their interior personal struggles. An excellent film, that based on audience response, seems to resonate especially well with those in the medical profession.

I previously saw Bernard Émond's film 20h17 rue Darling at the festival back in 2003.

Writer/director Bernard Émond and director of photography Sara Mishara did a Q&A after the film:

  • This is the last film in his faith, hope, and charity trilogy.
  • Someone asked a rather long-winded question about whether Émond had seen or was referencing Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red, White, Blue trilogy, and Émond said those films he liked the least of Kieslowski's work, but that The Decalogue is one of the monuments of cinema in the 20th century, so he is much more influenced by that than his later work.
  • One doctor in the audience commented that the film should be used in training new doctors.
  • Émond has two new projects in the works; the first is an adaptation of a short story by Chekhov, Une Banale Histoire; the second is an original script inspired by a fresco by Giotto in the basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the one where St. Francis renounces his father's heritage, and he appears naked in court because he doesn't want to owe anything to his father. It's a contemporary retelling of this story, of a young man who refuses a large sum of money because it was badly acquired. Probably about two-and-a-half years before he's finished.
  • Canadian filmmaker Don Owen gave Émond praise for the film, but Émond shared credit with his crew. Some people he's worked with are new to him, such as the DoP, and others he's worked with for 10 or 20 years, like his editor Louise Coté.
  • Akira Kurosawa is also a big influence on Émond; while writing the script he went back to Red Beard (Akahige), Kurosawa's 1965 film about a young doctor from a wealthy family who wants to practice medicine at the imperial court, but his father sends him to a poorhouse to treat the poor; he hates it at first, but eventually becomes the doctor to the poor.
  • It's an original screenplay, written in situ for Abitibi in northwestern Quebec. Émond comes from a background in anthropology and documentary, so he tends to research his films a lot and write them in situ.
  • Many of the places in the film are the actual places, like the bakery is the actual Normétal bakery, the hospital was a working hospital; it's rare to get access to that, but the crew was wonderful because it takes a lot of savoir-vivre to try not to disturb the life of the hospital. The people of Abitibi helped them a lot.
  • Someone commented on the accuracy of the medical details; Émond said they had one doctor with them for most of the time, and when he wasn't available they had one or two nurses, and they corrected the gestures as they went.
  • DoP Sara Mishara talked about how the landscape dictated the visuals of the film rather than the opposite. The region is flat, the treeline is low, the skies are pronounced but not so colorful. They had the idea to show it in its reality, not enhance it any way.
  • On the lack of sun, Émond talked that with his budget, if it's there it's there, if not, it's not. For the last sequence they started on a cloudy day, but then the sun came out and they had to reshoot to maintain some semblance of continuity. He thinks the sun makes the scene better, even though he had maintained from the start that he wanted the sequence to be shot on a cloudy day.

Spoliers below:

  • The first film in the trilogy (La neuvaine) is set in St. Anne de Beaupré and also stars Elise Guilbault as Jeanne Dion. In that film, she witnesses a murder she thinks could have been avoided, and she feels guilty and suffers from depression as a result. She is saved by a young man. Characters have a life of their own, and he wondered what would happen to her afterwards, when she comes back to life after losing all hope. She can't go back to her job or her house or her husband that doesn't love her anymore. So he was wondering what happens when you break away, and you try to make a meaningful existence.
  • The ending is how he envisioned it in the script. in editing they toyed with other possible endings, but returned to the one that was written. He felt that the audience had to know in a way that she would stay and that there would be a note of hope. Even though the mother dies, the child survies, and Dion has the child in her arms, and this was the strongest image of hope in the film.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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