Ghost Town Anthology

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Ghost Town Anthology
"The bleak chill of the Quebecois winter seeps into the very bones of Denis Côté's latest film, giving a sense of aching longing to the action." | Photo: Lou Scamble

The bleak chill of the Quebecois winter seeps into the very bones of Denis Côté's latest film, giving a sense of aching longing to the action which unfolds in the small town of Irénée-les-Neiges. It's a place where the population's emotions seem as frozen solid as the landscape, which is packed so hard that the townsfolk won't be able to bury the body of 21-year-old Simon Dubé until spring. We meet Simon for the first time, in the film's opening moments as his car careers off the road and smashes into concrete. He leaves behind his slightly older brother Jimmy and parents Gisèle (Josée Deschênes) and Romuald (Jean-Michel Anctil), along with a lot of unanswered questions, with inevitable answers, that echo in the lonely spaces and headspaces of the town.

This may not be a ghost town yet but many of the residents are already haunted to a degree, with the mayoress drawing on a concealed hip flask for warmth and twentysomething resident Adèle (Larissa Corriveau) an emotional wreck even before she starts to hear things going bump in the night. There's also a fear of outsiders, such as the woman sent to see if she had help the townsfolk emotionally. "We can sort our problems out on our own," she is sharply told. Soon, there will be outsiders of an altogether different and unsettling sort - like the masked children we see playing with one another - their motivations as indiscernible as the snowy landscape they run about it.

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Côté's film, adapted from a novel by Canadian author Laurence Olivier, is shot by François Messier-Rheault on by grainy 16mm, which only adds to the otherworldly feel, while the handheld camera conveys a sense of the townsfolk being watched. The overall effect feels almost like found footage in places and the whole town feels almost caught outside of time - perhaps the reason why the dead are unsure if they shouldn't still be around, the living unsure who is still breathing and who is not. Côté avoids genre beats to create something altogether more haunting with an ambivalence as to what constitutes reality, embodied here by a late-stage transformation of Adèle. He once told me that he dislikes the description 'magic realism' but its enigmatic cousin is often present in his films, whether he likes the term or not.

Ghost Town Anthology is currently screening on MUBI.

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2020
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After a man dies in a car accident, time seems to lose all meaning for the residents of a small town... and then strangers begin to appear.
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