Our Loved Ones (Les Étres Chers) and inheritance, The Invitation and blood

Friday was the first really warm day of 2016, temps in the high teens and that perfect afternoon light that arrives when it’s warm enough to go out with only a t-shirt. We had the doors and windows open at Carbon Arc to get a little air into the space.

Our Loved Ones (Les Étres Chers), directed by Anne Emond, is an ambitious story of mental illness and familial bonds. It starts promisingly, with a man’s body being pulled down from where he hanged himself in a basement. A couple of his adult children know, but keep it a secret from others and the mother, saying their father died of a heart attack. David (Maxim Gaudette), is in the dark, but as the eldest son it’s his responsibility to keep up the family business, making marionettes.

We move forward from the ’70s to the mid-’80s, if the songs on the soundtrack and fashions are anything to go by. David is married, with a happy family life with two kids. Then we jump forward again to the mid-90s, and his daughter, Laurence (Karelle Tremblay), is coming of age. She starts to understand that depression can be inherited.

 
 

I appreciated what Emond is trying to do here, the naturalistic tone, and I really enjoyed the summery Quebec exteriors. But I found the regular leaps through time were stymied somewhat by unconvincing make-up—the older characters barely age, their changes mostly represented by hairstyles and clothes. I also felt like the acoustic folkie score was asked to carry a little more of the script’s sentiment than it could lift.

Still, there’s a lot of grace in the direction, a thoughtful, sometimes moving script, and a powerful final sequence.

Maybe Carbon Arc’s most controversial program of the season—if the four audience members who walked out are anything to go by—was The Invitation, which screened at 9:30pm Friday night.

Introduced by Carbon Arc programmer Donna, who indicated the film arrived with the studio making all efforts to keep its twists under wraps. It turned out those wraps include some genre switching in the final act.

The film is being marketed as a psychological thriller: We arrive at a gathering of old friends in one of those 1970s palaces in the Hollywood hills. The host, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) her ex-husband, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), split awhile back, but they’re OK now, both partnered with new people.  All their mutual friends are at the party, along with a few new ones of Eden and her new beau.

Things are awkward from the outset. Will is suspicious of everything, and the dramatic structure gives him (and us) plenty of reason for paranoia. What’s up with these weird party games? Why are Eden’s new friends so odd? And what happened to one of the guests?

The construction of the film stretches out the suspense to the limit… and perhaps beyond. Some in the audience following the film expressed frustration with waiting for “the other shoe to drop,” that the film had only a couple of options—a cautionary tale of the cost of paranoia, or that bad people actually have something sinister cooked up—and took too long to get where it was going.

I enjoyed the process. I wasn’t blind to where The Invitation was taking me, nor could I entirely ignore some plot holes, but I liked the machinations, the effort to sustain an especially old-school, Mansonian, California creepfest. My biggest complaint was with casting—some of the actors totally embodied their roles, while others felt like they’d walked out of a situation comedy.

It occurred to me that despite the provocative places the film went, The Invitation was less chilling, less horrifying, than The Club. Fans of dark, intense films should really give that one a look.

Carbon Arc only has one more screening before going on hiatus until September, and it’s called Francofonia, a unique mix of drama and documentary about arguably the world’s most prestigious art museum, The Louvre.

And I will have more to share with you in this space, including more details about my short film script. Stay tuned, as they say.