Sunday, April 22, 2012
The pulp mill’s been shut down for 240 days and counting, winter has hit town like a fist, and the only flicker of life at the local car dealership is the omnipresent buzzing of the fluorescent lights. So what’s a salesman to do? Dance away his troubles with his daughter in the church basement, apparently, as the band enthusiastically tears through a Quebecois-folk rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Romance in Durango” (the singer reads the words off a sheet in faltering English, and his phonetic performance suggests he doesn’t have a clue what he’s saying). The cultural mash-up is so unlikely it would come across as ridiculous if it hadn’t just followed the even more implausible sight of a priest blessing a pack of snowmobiles.
The moment lends a touch of surreal ecstasy to the largely quotidian world of Sebastien Pilote’s The Salesman, but most of the film’s other pleasures are much more mundane. The early scenes float calmly on the gentle rhythms of small town life, later to be ruptured by a series of cascading tragedies both personal and economic. A potent economic screed married to a modest character sketch, the film succeeds by virtue of its fidelity to both parts of the argument. Marcel, the titular salesman, may well be a symbol of blind capitalism run amuck, but one nonetheless feels sympathy for the lonely man whose skill at selling seemingly comes from the sheer emptiness of his own life. When finally confronted by the suffering his dutiful salesmanship has caused others, he soldiers on, alienated from his own guilt. “Was it my hand that held the gun?” sings Dylan, via some French guy in a basement. Marcel dances on, never catching the warning. “I’d be a rich man if I spoke English,” he later says.