for Cinetalk.net

Chien de Garde chronicles the story of small time crook JP, his girlfriend Mel, his younger brother Vincent (who conveys an obvious personality disorder) and their alcoholic mother. JP does dirty jobs for his mobster uncle who’s in the drug business. As he is thinking of getting himself out of all this nonsense, his ticking time-bomb of a brother is biting for more room. The quartet lives in a modest apartment in Verdun, a borough of the city of Montreal, carrying a bilingual, proletarian and working class history, slowly toned down by current gentrification.

Chien de Garde is Sophie Dupuis’ first feature after a string of short films. It’s generally getting positive reviews in the Quebec press. It is obviously getting praise by critics out of assessment for what she is trying to show. The film is probably made with the best intentions. But this is no guarantee for achievement. Chien de Garde is heavy handed. we could not even write if it is missing the target, because it is not clear what its whole point is. One thing for sure, like too many drama films of its kind, it is pretty weak in exposing the surroundings and context of its characters. We get glimpses and could make assumptions out of it, but it is not enough.  You have to be responsible when showing poverty on screen. People are not animals in a zoo. It has become so easy for the film industry to scrutinize such a subject, staying on the surface, and get good press about it.

I met Sophie Dupuis about ten years ago as she volunteered to give a hands-on video project I was in charge of – part of  a youth protection program for juvenile delinquents and teenagers. The kids were sent to this closed center due to bad treatment that might have endangered their health. I think her mother was a fellow worker of the educator assigned to the project or something of the sort. She had an interest in studying the locked up young guys I was working with for an upcoming short screenplay she wanted to write. She had clear empathy and was earnest with her tasks. But, again, this is no guarantee for achievement or understanding of such material. And colleagues may think she does understand the background, but they usually don’t know much about it either.

Every aspect of Chien de Garde is either uneven or of dubious quality. Theodore Pellerin, as Vincent the young brother with personality disorder, boasts the best performance, saving the ship from sinking completely. We are in for some unsettling mother and son scenes bordering the incestuous. This, among other prospects, should pave the way to elucidate more about the psychological bounds, aside from the family ties, of the whole bunch but it falls short because the overall writing is poor on tangible character development.

Ideas, like the cruising through smartphone of JP’s girlfriend by the mob uncle, are thrown around without proper conclusion, just in order to sustain the 90 minutes’ length. The not-so-terrifying boys from Dupuis’ hood are near the caricature, the cinematic clichés, and are merely a Disney version of the real thing. Some may argue that it is a work of fiction but people who praise the film celebrate it precisely for what they take as some sort of realism. I’ve got bad news for you. It fails to convince except for a few moments here and there, thus the attempt at enhancement through music.

The music! The only consistency we find lies within the awful score that uniformly shows some genuinely poor musical taste. It is inadequately used in a demonstration of misplaced over-dramatization, heavily indicating where we should cry or when to feel troubled, by breaking our eardrums. When you have to resort to such effect, it indicates that something crucial is missing from the process of filmmaking.

Overruled by the deception of its ultimate feel-good movie outcome, leading nowhere, Chien de Garde looks like an exploitative and predictable act of morbid self pity in which the fourth wall is a Vulture. A pathetic exercise of self absorbed futile drama cheating on its characters and the world it fancies to depict.

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