Ghost Town Anthology
4th October 2019 3.00pm at Vue West End
Denis Côté’s latest feature, Ghost Town Anthology, puts a supernatural twist on the stark realities of grief, holding us in the suffocating grip of small-town repression.
When 21-year-old Simon dies suddenly in a car accident, the close-knit Quebecois community of Irénée-les-Neiges is left in mourning. The town’s mayor (Diane Lavallée) tries to keep grief under wraps – her worldview is one of self-preservation, old-fashioned and insular. Mother Gisele (Josee Deschenes), father Romauld (Jean-Michel Anctil) and brother Jimmy (Robert Naylor) all undergo a series of strange encounters as they come to terms with their loss, but as spectres begin to appear, the demons reveal themselves as more than grief-induced apparitions.
This anthology runs on a strange narrative paradox: in this community, everyone is a protagonist, all of the cast putting in strong performances, and yet at the same time none of them is penetrable. We drift across the barren winter landscape from door to door, catching a glimpse of each character before the story slams back in our face and we cut away, as unsettled as the voiceless victim at the film’s centre. Is this isolation what drove Simon off the road to his early end? This is a town that doesn’t communicate, a town that won’t address its issues, instead letting them fester like a rotting carcass. Depression and suicide linger in the frosty air – no therapists are welcome here; the only treatment is withdrawal. The town feels open to all elements yet unbearably claustrophobic.
Though such a detached style and slow pace are undoubtedly effective in replicating feelings of alienation, they make for an uncomfortable viewing experience. Respite comes only when humour bubbles up from hidden wells of humanity. Small gestures of sincerity – a hug, a look, the candles on a cake – build the subtlest of connections. We cling to them, for the picture as a whole is bleak. We are haunted by ghosts, disturbingly silent spectres who stare as if searching for the home they never had. There is none to be found in this inhospitable landscape.
Ghost Town Anthology is beautifully made but hard to bear. It’s an inventive and unforgiving exploration of grief and mental illness that is at once oppressively rooted and tragically timeless.
Ghost Town Anthology does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.