There is commendable material in this film: Ali Liebert is a strong screen presence and effectively grounds each scene she's in, and some sequences, such as the ghost farewell scenes near the end of the film, convey an unguarded and inspiring emotionalism that's executed with surprising conviction. On the whole, I find it admirable to try and craft something this strangely ambitious in its time-jumping structuring and (in its strongest portions) go-for-broke earnestness as a debut.
However, I think writer/director/star Troy Ruptash succumbs to insecurity in presenting this vision. This is best exemplified in his performance, which feels choreographed in his held glances, deflections, and outbursts as an emulation of depictions of grief he has seen in previous media rather than a personal sensitivity on his part. This feeling comes about due to his performance alternating between two extreme registers of closed off denial and mania, which both feel unrealistic and make his progression, which is the backbone of the film's structuring, come across as feeling arbitrary rather than cathartic. This insecurity in presentation is further reflected in the film's cinematography, which jumps from car commercial gloss in the flashback and nature sequences, to arthouse textural closeups, to conventional shot reverse shot in dialogue sequences on a dime. This contributes to the feeling that the look of the film was more dependent on thinking "what would a professional movie do" on each specific sequence rather than preserving a cohesive aesthetic perspective overall. The film's worst tendencies come to a head in the war flashbacks, which succumbs to the most basic "serious war film" cliches which I also fear try to "elevate" the central emotional arc by exploiting preconception rather than through the conviction the film's best sequences convey (and brings closer to reality the terrifying notion that Passchendaele is the most influential Canadian film ever made). For Ruptash to use his sensibility to the best of its potential going forward, I would recommend dialing back his ambitions a bit and honing in on something smaller that he has direct, compulsive insight into. This will allow him to ensure each piece of his work is in tune with that guiding sensitivity, and remove the feeling of insecure emulation and disjoint that this work can suffer from. I also think this film's worst parts come from a fear that a wider audience may lose the interest to take the film seriously. If Ruptash can abandon those notions and collaborate with people with like-minded sensibilities and compulsions, a much more effective work will result.
Overall though I'm happy to see something I can write at this length about coming out of my old hometown of Vegreville, and for a debut's worst flaw to be insecurity is definitely not the worst case scenario. I hope Ruptash can find a stronger individual sensitivity in his next work as well as the courage to embrace his best tendencies.
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