The Noise Of Engines

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Noise Of The Engines
"Dreams and reality are porous in Alexandre's world - characters and situations so heightened they could also be imagined - although Alexandre's existential crisis about where he 'fits' in the world feels sharply real." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

An offbeat story is matched by equally offbeat storytelling in Philippe Grégoire's debut, which had its world premiere at San Sebastian Film Festival this week. An absurdist shaggy dog story of a young gun instructor at a customs officer college, who finds himself suspended after a sexual encounter ends with an asthma attack, it unfolds in off-kilter ways that recalls the likes of Quentin Dupieux or Denis Côté at his most playful.

Côté fans will also welcome the presence of Robert Naylor - who featured in the fellow Canadian director's Ghost Town Anthology - in the central role of Alexandre, who decides to cool his heels back in his rural hometown, where his mum owns the local race track, while waiting to return to the job. Everything about Alexandre's experience borders on the surreal - from the throw cushions and other decorations bearing his own childhood photos that his mum has used to do out his bedroom to the meet cute he has with Icelandic tourist and drag racer Aðalbjörg (Tanja Björk), to the strange encounters he has with the local police who are on the hunt for someone who has been leaving explicit sexual drawings around the town with Alexandre in the starring role. He may be technically "home" but he sticks out like a sore thumb to the cops, with even his mother seeming to prefer the idea of him than his actual physical presence in her house.

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This may be a partial love letter to drag racing and it is also a nod to Grégoire's own experience of funding college by being a customs officer, but there's no danger of the director taking a straight path, something hinted at perhaps from the way doughnutting cars are spinning their wheels in the film's opening moments. Rather this is a film full of unexpected cornering, often accompanied by quick edits - such the flash of a key being turned, the car thrown into gear and the spin of the wheels - that deliberately intrude on the generally more relaxed rhythm elsewhere. Dreams and reality are porous in Alexandre's world - characters and situations so heightened they could also be imagined - although Alexandre's existential crisis about where he 'fits' in the world feels sharply real. Grégoire's playful tone may not be for everyone but it's delightfully deadpan and, more importantly, distinctive - and what more can you ask from a debut?

Reviewed on: 21 Sep 2021
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Alexandre, an instructor at the Canadian customs college, finds himself under surveillance by police trying to get to the bottom of the sexually explicit drawings that have been troubling the town.

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