FLOWER AND GARNET written and directed by Keith Behrman, produced by Trish Dolman, with Callum Keith Rennie, Jane McGregor, Colin Roberts, Dov Tiefenbach and Kristen Thompson. 103 minutes. An Odeon release. Opens Friday (March 28). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 81. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Flower and garnet contains a shot of a cat licking a grape popsicle. It also has a nasty gun shot. And a painfully intimate teen sex scene. But it's the popsicle shot that makes the movie.Keith Behrman's attentiveness to both the telling image and the pivotal emotion marks him as a filmmaker to watch. He took this year's Claude Jutra Genie Award for best first feature.
Flower And Garnet is a boy's coming-of-age-on-the-prairies story -- a classic Canadian genre despite having precious few examples -- but Behrman's debut bears a closer resemblance to David Gordon Green or early Terence Davies. So far, at least, he's a regional minimalist. It's an exacting discipline.
"I grew up in a small farming town in southwest Saskatchewan called Shaunavon," Behrman says over the giddy din at the Bistro 990.
"It was a great place to be a kid, but there was a pretty narrow range of experience in terms of what you could engage in, or express."
But the horizon was endless.
"In a weird way, all that space caused me to look inward and look underneath things," Behrman says. "To look at the small detail. You can find beauty on the prairies in the vastness, but there's also so much tiny, minute beauty. I'm interested in what's beneath the surface."
In the film, Garnet watches his teenage sister, Flower, grow from surrogate mother to sexual being to mother-to-be in short, awkward spurts. He's her only witness, since their widower father (Callum Keith Rennie) walks around with his shoulders hunched up around his soul.
In one scene, Garnet (Colin Roberts) discovers his sister's discarded underwear on her bedroom floor, marked by a spot of blood. What transpires on his face is a remarkable climb from innocence to experience.
Behrman remembers coaching his young actor through the scene. ""It's like if you find anything and you don't know what it is,'" he recalls saying. ""You smell it. It's a smell you don't recognize, and you wonder what it is.'"
"So when he smelled it and raised his eyebrow, it was perfect. I didn't have to get into the whole thing about menstrual cycles and losing your virginity. His mom probably did that.
"I'm interested in how much can you say without words," he says, the words rushing out of him in a blur, "how much can you tell by the way an actor moves his eyes, or the colour of his coffee cup."
Pressed for influences, he admits that he admires Ingmar Bergman's ability to tell stories without words, with the face and the eyes.
"I really connected to that. I also really enjoyed looking at Tarkovsky's films in terms of watching someone using light and mood and time in that way. Raging Bull was an amazing film to see for the first time, and The 400 Blows."
Behrman's Garnet has the sensitivity of Truffaut's Antoine Doinel character, but with a Nordic reticence bred at home. What's left unsaid at the dinner table makes up the meat of his movies.
"They're really about people searching for who they are in the world," he says, "and also feeling like they want to belong somewhere but don't. Family is a great place to explore that idea."
Being the odd one out in Shaunavon eventually paid off.
"I remember as a kid always trying to figure out what was going on with people," Behrman says. "It's like I was going beneath the ice and seeing all this stuff, and then coming up and asking, "Anybody else see that?'
"But everyone would say, "What are you talking about? There's no fish down there.' So I began thinking, "I can't look down there. It gets me in trouble.'"
And so a boy comes of age on the prairies. firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening this week: BASIC -- THE CORE -- DEADEND.COM -- HEAD OF STATE -- NOWHERE IN AFRICA -- STEVIE