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Subtle performance grounds farm drama

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Gabriel Arcand and Sophie Desmarais in The Auction.

BERTRAND CALMEAU / FILM MOVEMENT Enlarge Image

Gabriel Arcand and Sophie Desmarais in The Auction.

A better English title for the quiet, observant drama The Auction would have been the specific translation of its French title Le démantèlement -- The Dismantling.

The film is about a farmer who decides to sell his sheep farm after keeping the barely profitable operation afloat for 40 years.

Gaby (Gabriel Arcand) is in many ways a typical Canadian man of agriculture. He does what's required every day with a quiet dignity. His farm, in rural Quebec, is a rambling, verdant property (shot with an idyllic eye by cinematographer Michel La Veaux) where there is always something that needs doing, whether it's a gate that needs repair or livestock that need to be fed.

Gaby goes it alone. He is divorced and his two daughters have long abandoned the place for lives in the big city of Montreal.

On a rare visit from his eldest daughter, Marie (Lucie Laurier), and her two young children, a bomb is dropped. Marie is getting a divorce. She needs money to keep the house in which she is determined to raise her sons. She appeals to her dad for a loan of $200,000.

The only way he will be able to help, it turns out, is to sell the entire property, livestock and all. Against the advice of friends and neighbours, Gaby proceeds to do exactly that.

Is it an old man's folly? The film makes those implications, especially when Gaby's younger daughter, Frédérique (Sophie Desmarais), shows up. She is an actress and she happens to be learning her lines for the role of Cordelia in King Lear, Shakespeare's tragedy of estate planning gone wrong.

Writer-director Sébastien Pilote does not go there. (Anyway, the rural retelling of King Lear has already been done in the 1997 film A Thousand Acres.) Gaby is a more complex, reality-based figure, with a demonstrable love of this land, but also a simmering resentment of a lifestyle that requires a seven-day work week and the systematic erosion of his personal relationships. Touchingly, he considers himself primarily a father, not a farmer.

As such, the film primarily serves as a showcase for Arcand, who earlier this year won a best-actor Canadian Screen Award for his work here, deservedly so. It is a subtle, deeply felt performance of a character accustomed to keeping his emotions in check, but who reveals himself nonetheless with every aversion of his eyes and every line on his face.

Gaby may be a Québécois, but his quiet stoicism is universal to farmers everywhere. Call it a singular solitude.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2014 D5

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