★★ Directed by: Adrian Konstant Starring: Adrian Konstant, Bob Cook, Derek Lackenbauer Indie Film Review by: Richard Tanner
In a 2016 interview with the Toronto International Film Festival, Tatiana Maslany spoke candidly about Canada as nation and how it affords people a breathing space that enables creativity. Going largely unnoticed, the country and its cinema has been somewhat overshadowed by its loud eye catching neighbour to the south. And it’s all the better for it. While the US has caught the rest of the world yawning and fed it until its full, then fed it some more, Canada has been explore and do brilliant things. From the fearless documentaries of Alanis Obomsawin, to the striking cinematic worlds of Xavier Dolan, Canada breathes cinema. Bubbling under the surface for some time and with the recent breakout of directors such as Dolan, Molly McGlynn and Kathleen Hepburn, Canadian cinema looks set to erupt.
“There's something about the space in Canada. There's a lot of breathing room and that breeds creativity...always creating work because there’s so much space to create, and not a lot to do.” – Tatiana Maslany
It’s this lack of a better idea that chimes so well with Bickermans Grove and the forces that were in play in getting this film made. A light hearted Canadian comedy, Bickermans Grove is set within a small and close knit rural town, trudging its way through winter. Here the snow filled landscape and lack of any worldly context creates a comedic absurdity, both in the characters and their actions, but also in the films objectives. The films loosely bound premise centres on two brothers and their stereotyped families, who vie against each other in the hope of turning on the towns Christmas lights. The family who succeed will inherit their father's fortune, which in this instance turns out to be a house identical to the ones they currently live in. So, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“In Norway and in Sweden they have the same brutal winters we have, and they come up with death metal...In Canada we come up with comedy.” – Being Canadian (2015)
If there’s one thing you can’t take away from Bickermans Grove is its sense of fun. It’s lack of ego and utterly ridiculous plot make the 86 minute run time all the more bearable. With the occasional punch of witty dialogue, scene matches and a duck taped structure, Konstant shows himself to be a relatively competent director whose main pursuit is a good laugh. But with so much fun comes a lack of form. The characters are quickly fleshed out preventing any sense of empathy or understanding for the audience. They have nothing to lose. So when they do trip up, we don’t really care. The shot choices also seem rushed, lacking the considered angles and tools that have been vital to so many great comedic characters of the past. Take for instance Konstant’s framing of a fight. Along the snowy bank of an empty road, he opts for a close up of this scuffle, forcing the actors to provide the laugh. Whereas the wide angle and distance used so well by the likes of Buster Keaton, would have allowed the environment and surroundings to heighten the laugh, with two men fighting in an absurdly barren landscape.
Despite the rather lacklustre end product, especially in the wider context of the new and emerging Canadian cinema, Konstant finds this “breathing room”. Surrounded by a freezing Canadian winter, he refuses to let the environment contain his ambitions. Having recently spent my own long winter in rural Canada, I’m all too familiar with this landscape and its ability to do just that. In the barrenness and quiet that comes with the season, people can idle away the hours waiting for some semblance of greenery and warmth to return. But it’s this idling, this lack of a better idea that sprouted creativity, a creativity that has become so rooted across Canadian culture. Where I packed my bags seeking the slightly more familiar climbs of a grey Edinburgh afternoon, a Canadian found humour and the will to create.