CONGORAMA (Philippe Falardeau). 105 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 30). Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Congorama is a cold-eyed morality tale that spits on the notion of fate even as its abundant use of coincidence and symbols seems to promote it.
European screen veteran Olivier Gourmet gives a brilliant performance as Michel, a Belgian engineer who comes to rural Quebec looking for his birth parents. That so-so storyline gets a swift kick in the midpoint when an accident brings good fortune to Michel and spins the movie into the tale of his Quebec opposite number (well played by Paul Ahmarani ), who's heading to Belgium on a quest for his father's legacy.
Gourmet's Michel is hugely unsympathetic. He seems an ordinary guy responding in a low-key way to ordinary frustrations, but underneath the sensible surface, he's filled with a lifetime of stifled self-pity, rage and bone-deep immaturity. We believe him when he says he has no friends. What we wonder is, how did he ever get a wife?
Actors, famously, seek to be loved, and filmmakers know that audiences like likeable characters. So it's an act of bravery for writer/director Philippe Falardeau , who picked up a Genie for the script, and Gourmet, who got a Genie nomination, to sit us down with such a thoroughly detestable man.
Falardeau does occasionally lapse into that classic art-house director flaw: static tedium to portray static tedium. But for the most part, he handles his actors, camera and cutting well. He works hard to keep us engaged with Michel and to present his morality tale as purely naturalistic character drama with no pat answers.
Which is a good thing. There's nothing worse than moralizing in a morality tale.