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Albert Renaud, a young Quebec actor with aspirations to become the next Rudolph Valentino, sets off by train for Hollywood with a letter of recommendation from his drama teacher who is Mary Pickford's aunt. Along the way he meets a succession of bizarre characters ... a militant feminist Mormon who believes in polyandry (Émilie Dequenne), a womanizing golfer who plays in the Californian desert with ambergris-scented golf balls(Roy Dupuis), and a man called Noah who is trying to break a record by perching on a boat on top of a pole. Written by
This fantastical surrealist adventure- from the brilliant French-Canadian auteur Andre Forcier- follows the pursuits of Albert Renaud (played by Éric Bruneau aka the Quebecois Keanu Reeves), as he tries to make his way from his small Canadian town to the big screens of Hollywood.
Renaud was a protégé of Jane Pickford, aunt to the infamous Mary- who is in her heyday at United Artists, when Albert decides to set off on his adventure.
But before he does, he needs to get an introductory letter from Jane, who has fallen obsessively in love with him, in her old age.
She agrees to this, but only in return for a passionate kiss and lovers embrace. Albert humours the old woman's demands, but she unexpectedly passes away in the process...
With this newfound psychological burden, he takes the letter addressed to Mary, and heads off to the train station to make way for Hollywood.
On the train he befriends a black Georgian conductor with Canadian maple syrup cookies; happens upon the love of his life- Grace Carson; and meets her rival suitor, Peter Malone- a cameraman for MGM.
What becomes noticeable here, though, is that everyone is still speaking Quebecois-French. While odd, it implies that we are actually inside the somewhat-surreal fantasy of young Albert.
Albert's narcolepsy isn't helping either. He is constantly falling asleep throughout the film. At which times he finds himself becoming haunted- in a 2nd level of fantasy (denoted by the shimmering effect)- by the ghost of Jane Pickford, whose infatuation with him has caused her to remain connected with him from beyond the grave.
Ghost-Jane is so obsessed with the strapping young Albert, that she is actively engaged in sabotaging any chances that he may have to form a relationship with the lovely Grace.
Grace has fled from a Mormon community in Carson City, Nevada, where she was 1 of 75 sisters, from her fathers 10 wives. She is on her way to speak before Congress as a representative of the Sisterhood of the Garter- a group that speaks out for the plight of Mormon women.
The two fall instantly in love with one another. But when Grace chooses Albert over Peter in a show of public affection, Peter gets incredibly jealous. He acts upon this jealousy while Albert is puking over the side of the train- after eating some bad steak- kicking him over the side, somewhere in the Arizona desert.
While wandering through the desert, Albert meets a womanizing golf enthusiast- named Jack- who plans to lead them back to civilization via his trusty ball "Rosie" (note: little homages to The Doors Shaman Spirit Guide, and Citizen Kane's "Rosebud")...and manages to save a Mexican erotic dancer from sure death at the hands of a twisted serial killer.
Eventually, Albert and his new friend Jack do manage to make it into California- though not quite Hollywood. Instead, they enter into a small town in the middle of nowhere called "Asthma". The town doesn't officially exist on any map yet, and it only has a population of 3: One doctor and a couple who are trying to set the world record for longest amount of time living in a ship on top of a pole. It is named Asthma, because the lovely couple moved there- along with their doctor- in a bid to overcome the wife's asthma.
The man's name is, appropriately, Noah (and he evokes memories of Bunuel's Simon of the Desert). His wife- Hannah- runs the small Inn, which essentially is the town. They are, literally, trying to put the town on the map; which they hope to achieve with the winnings they will receive from Noah's venture. They are also trying to conceive, though Hannah seems unable, due to her fear of making love above Noah's ship.
While Albert is trying to make his way through the desert, Grace is in Hollywood trying to track him down- with hopes of getting an explanation as to why he disappeared off the train.
Without much luck- likely due to the spiritual intervention of the spiteful Jane- Grace turns back to her activist duties, while still being pursued by the persistent Peter- who is wooing her with promises of filming her speech.
Considering this is Albert's fantasy and all, I'm sure you can guess how it's all going to turn out...but that doesn't mean you should pass it up. Because this is a real visual treat that is creatively written and full of humour. It is also one of very few films that can be said to represent both realms of Canadian cinema: that of Quebec, and Canada as a whole. This is a real gem from an under-appreciated Canadian auteur. A must see. 10 out of 10.
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