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Superb film could use novena of its own to reach larger audience
If a single picture can be worth a thousand words of reflection on the theme of changing seasons, then a new motion picture by Quebec writer-director Bernard Émond (20h17 rue Darling) could be said to be worth a thousand verses on the subject of life passages, rebirth and recovery. The Novena also offers the most profoundly respectful representation of honest Catholic faith seen at the movies in a very long time. It does so without any cloying religious sentimentality or sermonizing. Moreover, while remaining rigorously realistic in showing deadly violence, illness, and unbelief, The Novena's greatest achievement is committing to film pure acts of meditative silence and healing kindness. Most of us during our lives will experience, or know someone who is challenged by, deep physical and/or mental distress. The expression "there but for the grace of God go I", comes easily when bad things happen to others. But if such events happen to us, we cannot be sure how well we will cope, no matter how much we are used to being in control. Will we find the loving supports or guardian angel to pull us through? The Novena is that rarity combining religious observance and secular life with total integrity, dignity, and no trace of irony. It is the creation of an assured filmmaker that compares with that of the Swedish master Ingmar Bergman. While some will find it too slow-paced and sombre, I applaud its meticulous measured unfolding as brilliantly acted, edited, and photographed. Each frame is exquisitely lit and composed, from shadowy interiors to panoramic landscapes. The Novena won three awards at the Locarno film festival in August, including best actor for Patrick Drolet. It was also shown at September's Toronto festival. But among the recent parade of quality Quebec movies (such as "C.R.A.Z.Y.", Canada's official entry in the best foreign-language Oscar sweepstakes)director Émond makes no crowd-pleasing concessions of any kind. For the sake of a larger audience and a North American release, The Novena could perhaps use one of its own.
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