'Familiar Ground' a deadpan comedy

FAMILIAR GROUND/EN TERRAINS CONNUSDirector: Stephane LafleurStars: Francis La Haye, Fanny Mallette,...

FAMILIAR GROUND/EN TERRAINS CONNUS
Director: Stephane Lafleur
Stars: Francis La Haye, Fanny Mallette, Michel Daigle.
Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:06 PM ET

The members of a dysfunctional family fight among themselves as they lead small lives in a bleak town. In the snow. Trust filmmaker Stephane Lafleur to find the humour in that.

Familiar Ground is a deadpan comedy about misfits and the strange glue that is family. Benoit (Francis La Haye) is an adult who still lives at home, spending his time investigating snowbanks with a metal detector. It seems he can't drive a car; he takes out the family snowmobile, though he needs the help of his ailing dad (Michel Daigle) to start it most of the time. He is childish and irresponsible, and he sulks a lot. He's also inept. He's the kind of guy who would kick over a snowman in anger.

His love life involves a single mother who lives nearby, but her young son, who barks like a dog to show his displeasure, can't stand Benoit.

Who can? Woof!

Benoit's sister Maryse (Fanny Mallette) works in what appears to be a box factory. She and her husband have a backhoe in their garden with a 'for sale' sign on it, and Maryse is determined to get rid of the thing. She remembers that her dad has a trailer up at the cottage, and it's just the thing to haul that backhoe elsewhere.

Meanwhile, in a little chapter called Accident #1, we see Maryse's response to a mishap at work. A co-worker is badly injured, and it's an accident that underlines Maryse's general sense of being disconnected from her own life. She is unhappy, but she isn't sure why.

A mysterious man waves at her at work, and Maryse waves back ... He proves to be from the future. Later, he later appears to Benoit to warn him that Maryse may be in serious danger. Accident #2 underlines the grave nature of these possible paranormal events. Well, grave but with laughs. It's hard to explain.

The tension builds as brother and sister undertake a road trip together. At the same time, the trip helps their differences begin to evaporate. They travel to the family cottage to pick up that trailer, but from a picture of their dead mother to the neighbours Maryse used to babysit, it's really a trip backward in time. Not nostalgia, exactly, but a reminder of the things brother and sister have in common. At least Benoit seems to be less fatalistic than before.

Familiar Ground is the second feature from award-winning Canadian filmmaker Stephane Lafleur (Continental -- A Film Without Guns) and displays his wry observational style and dark visual humour. The film may be a bit too understated for some viewers, but a bigger message about the ties that bind is there to be seen under the low-key events. Familiar Ground won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Forum of New Cinema) at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. The film is in French, with English subtitles; in Toronto, it's at the Royal Theatre.

liz.braun@sunmedia.ca


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