Despite four previous features (including the Cannes premiere Carcasses), international awards, and planned retrospectives of the 37-year-old Canadian filmmaker’s work, Denis Côté is only now having what he calls his “first real point of entry in the States.” In Curling, his interest in individuals with “one foot outside of society” continues with a crisp portrait of a Québécois solitary man and his cloistered preteen daughter. Côté, a former film critic, calls his latest work “more mature, by accident”—a description that might be surprising coming from an avowedly independent spirit whose prior films have used improvisation and documentary technique.
“Curling took three years to develop—there were three different producers, a lot of different readers. People were continually asking me to go back and write more and more,” explains Côté, who pronounces the result “more polished and narrative and conventional.”
The magnificently schnozzed Emmanuel Bilodeau stars as the film’s retiring and secretive motel and bowling-alley handyman, Jean-François. Bilodeau, famous in Canada for playing a government minister on TV, suggested his own 12-year-old daughter, a non-actor, for the role of Julyvonne, Jean-François’s daughter. “At first, the story was for an eight-year-old girl,” recalls Côté. “It was full of clichés—she was talking to her dolls.” Instead, the sallow, bespectacled, pubescent Julyvonne communes with a snowbound cache of dead bodies she finds in the woods—her primary diversion apart from the occasional pop-music-listening sessions granted by her extraordinarily protective dad.
The morbid serenity of the drive-by rural setting—an ambience heightened by bleached film stock—dovetails with Côté’s vision for the odd duo. “I really wanted to have these half-dead characters. They need an encounter with death in order to go toward life,” he says. “[The father] is a loner among the loners. And in Quebec, it’s easy to identify with a reality like that: You can hide secrets for a very long time. Even though [the film] was really shot 20 minutes away from downtown Montreal.”
Côté quotes Aki Kaurismäki on small-town resonance: “The more local you are, the more international you talk.” Indeed, the film’s title refers to the big-in-Canada team sport that catches Jean-François’s eye—a pastime resembling bowling on ice that involves what looks like giant buffed paperweights and whisk brooms. “It’s the only time the character is interested in something,” says Côté, who also notes curling’s social possibilities. But: “It’s probably the most boring sport in the world.”
‘Curling’ screens March 26 and 27