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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Canadian Film Review: This Beautiful City (2007)

* *

Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Starring: Kristin Booth, Aaron Poole, Caroline Cave, Noam Jenkins, Stuart Hughes

This Beautiful City is lucky to have the actors it has because there isn't much else to recommend it. Clumsily constructed, the film meanders towards its depressing finale after making little more than a few shallow observations about Toronto and people within it. That I'm giving it two stars instead of one is a testament to the actors, who give the film much more than it deserves.

This Beautiful City takes place in two worlds that coexist uneasily in the same neighborhood. One world involves Carol (Caroline Cave) and Harry (Noam Jenkins), a married middle class couple who do middle class things like have dinner parties. The other world involves Pretty (Kristin Booth) and Johnny (Aaron Poole), who are both junkies. To support her habit Pretty turns to prostitution and carries out her work quite literally under the noses of Carol and Harry, in the alley that their balcony overlooks.

On the night of Harry and Carol's dinner party Carol falls from the balcony, perhaps by accident but perhaps on purpose. She lives but her recovery is painful both in physical and psychological terms, a pain which is no doubt exacerbated by the distance that has developped between herself and Harry. She begins an affair with Peter (Stuart Hughes), the man who found her after her fall and the person to whom she confesses that death might have been preferable to the embarrassment of having people think she had failed in a suicide attempt. Meanwhile, Harry develops a relationship, of sorts, with Pretty, who it just so happens is the daughter that Peter has been searching for.

To be entirely honest, Carol, Harry and Peter aren't particularly interesting characters, though Cave plays Carol with such intense vulnerability that she manages to make her more than a one-note stock character. The movie only really comes alive during scenes involving Pretty and Johnny, whose lives have long since spiralled out of control and who are living very much moment to moment. Booth and Poole play these characters with admirable abandon, never shying away from ugliness but also managing to steer clear of creating caricatures. If you've ever lived in a big city, you've encountered these two characters, though they play out on screen as more than just "types." Pretty and Johnny's relationship is complicated, one defined as much by moments of tenderness as moments of violence, and held together by a deep dependence on drugs. Their story is sad but they seem real and human, whereas the other characters, for the most part, seem to have slid out of a cookie cutter.

In its technical aspects, the film is lacking. It is very badly paced and the story, such as it is, relies too heavily on contrivance. You can see the wheels turning behind the scenes and the film itself isn't interesting enough to make you forgive it this fault. I spent a great deal of time after watching this movie wondering what it was even about, what message it was trying to impart. I suppose the film's message is that one community cannot simply continue trying to ignore the other, hoping that it will be swept away in due course through the process of gentrification. We all live together, and if we continue to pretend otherwise, we'll all be destroyed.

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