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"Chien de garde" is an incredibly effective depiction of the inheritance of criminality through family ties. The depiction has absolutely nothing glamorous about it, as the criminals in question are not suit-wearing Mafioso but, rather, small-time crooks living in poverty. It pretty much tells the story of two brothers who live at home with their formerly alcoholic mother and who work for their uncle, a lowlife drug dealer and bar owner in Montréal who hires them as henchmen.
On one hand, there is JP, the older brother, who is showing some resiliency and willingness to choose a different path in life, but who keeps being pressured by his family to stay within the vicious circle of crime and violence. His girlfriend, who also lives with him and his family, is about to leave that toxic nest and, obviously, wants him to follow her.
On the other hand, Vincent, the younger brother, an influenceable and totally unpredictable lunatic youngster whose recklessness seems like the perfect attribute to meet his uncle's career aspirations as a hitman.
Stuck between the opportunity for a fresh start with his girlfriend and pursuing criminal activity and staying loyal to his family, it feels like the walls are closing in on JP.
"Chien de garde" is such a great character study. Without its spectacular cast, it probably would not have been nearly as effective. From the opening sequence, the tone is set, and every character feels amazingly natural. Jean-Simon Leduc (JP) does a wonderful job portraying a young, resilient man who goes through a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional pressure.
Maude Guérin's (the mother) performance is stunning, and the chemistry that she is able to create with her two boys engenders a feeling of love that's equally comforting and toxic. The complexity and depth of her character is a key element in this story.
Theodore Pellerin (Vincent) completely steals the show with a performance that should be remembered for ages, literally. I felt uncomfortable every time his character was on screen. The last time I remember a character making me feel similarly was in The Professional, with Gary Oldman's character (although they are totally different characters). His unpredictability should make any viewer uneasy. The way he moves, the way he talks...you rarely see such an interesting and unique character in movies. It certainly helped that the dialogue is so well written (which, in my opinion, is a rare occurrence in a Quebecois film depicting the criminal world), but make no mistake, Vincent would have never been the same without such an inventive young actor portraying him. And it is safe to say that the same applies to the whole cast. Superb performances all around.
Sophie Dupuis struck me as a brilliant director, from start to finish. The opening sequence, especially, had me in complete awe. I find it incredible that this is her very first full-length feature. It appears that this film may be nominated for an Academy Award. Trust me, it is truly deserved.
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