Like The Ones I Used To Know

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Like The Ones I Used To Know
"St-Pierre and cinematographer √Čtienne Roussy pay attention to detail in ways that the adults in this house do not." | Photo: Etienne Roussy

Kids know - not just things about Santa but all sorts of stuff, not least the emotions that are running through the heads of their parents. And it seems to be Santa that young Julie (Lilou Roy-Lanouette) and her brother Mathieu (Laurent Lemaine) are waiting for on this icy Christmas Eve night in the Eighties, in the bustle of their cousins' house where the sugar high of childhood meets the tipsiness of adults who are smoking and drinking their way towards midnight in the living room. The bright energy of the house - which is also brimming with strong period production design - offers a different sort of sparkle to that we can see in the eyes of Denis (Steve Laplante), steeling himself silently in a car outside to pick up his kids for Christmas, his feelings fresh from a divorce newly minted.

As Denis finally gets up his courage, beating Santa to the doorbell, Annie St-Pierre's short - whose original title literally translates as "The Big Slap" - captures the way that gatherings like this can offer a sea of emotions, with different eddies and flows. Matthieu is the one wearing his the most openly - throwing a tantrum because his dad has arrived before Santa brings his presents, declaring dad's house "boring" and longing for anything - even cold storage - rather than go. The other members of the family are more careful with theirs. Mum Christiane (Larissa Corriveau), whose younger new partner has an ease that Denis doesn't, does her best to persuade her youngest to go with dad, while her interactions with Denis offer a frisson of what used to be.

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St-Pierre and cinematographer √Čtienne Roussy pay attention to detail in ways that the adults in this house do not. They are only interested in the usual traditions, urging Denis to play White Christmas on the Casio, but St-Pierre (co-writing with Daniel I Schachter) sees the stuff they don't - the children's peeing games in the bathroom and the way that little Julie also begins to tune in to what's happening beneath the surface. St-Pierre is a child of divorce herself and anyone who has shared the experience will feel the truth of this, in the way that children often have to bridge a gap they suddenly realise is there. Roy-Lanouette already has several acting credits and deserves many more on the strength of this, with St-Pierre giving space to all the children here, carefully balancing the mood with what is happening in the adult realm. Laplante also captures that sense of being right on the emotional verge, trying to hold things together for the sake of his kids even though he is dying on the inside.

Although this is a tightly arced story that feels perfect at its length, the capable storytelling and writing complexity mean it can surely only be a matter of time before St-Pierre steps up to longer length - something that can only be helped by this film being a strong contender on this year's Oscars live action short shortlist. Like The Ones I Used To Know may depict a bittersweet Christmas but it has been made with and carries with it a gift of love.

Reviewed on: 05 Jan 2022
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Like The Ones I Used To Know packshot
A divorced dad struggles with his emotions as he picks up his kids for Christmas.

Director: Annie St-Pierre

Writer: Daniel I Schachter, Annie St-Pierre

Starring: Lilou Roy-Lanouette, Steve Laplante, Larissa Corriveau, Laurent Lemaire, Jérémy Tremblay Boudreau

Year: 2021

Runtime: 18 minutes

Country: Canada

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