Quebecois director Guy Édoin trades in the bucolic setting of his first feature, 2011’s Wetlands, for the metropolitan Montreal borough of Ville-Marie for his ambitious, but ultimately overwrought ensemble drama follow-up.
A passion piece akin to Paul Haggis’ sentimental oversell Crash, Ville-Marie similarly frames much of its plot around car crashes and how those tragedies affect those involved. But that isn’t the only cliché that Édoin (who co-wrote the script along with Jean-Simon DesRochers) trots out, and to be fair, with so much happening in the film, some of it pans out with a striking intensity.
Thomas (Aliocha Schneider), a young man in his mid-twenties, is stopped by a woman at a bus stop who asks if he’d mind holding her baby a moment. He obligingly agrees and then the woman suddenly jumps in front of a truck, ending her life. It’s a grisly beginning to be sure, but it’s captured rather poetically, with no reliance on gore, instead using a restrained and elegiac style.
If this pensive, floating camera observance had been maintained throughout the film it might have done wonders to elevate and alleviate the crowded, frequently sonorous, and resultantly torturous dog and pony show that follows.
This tragic road accident that opens the film introduces other key cast members, including Pierre (Patrick Hivon), an ambulance driver coping with PTSD, and Marie (Pascale Bussières), an ER nurse at the understaffed Ville-Marie Hospital. Thomas, we soon discover, is the son of Sophie Bernard (Monica Bellucci), an adored European starlet who’s in Montreal for a short sojourn, shooting a semi-autobiographical movie.
At its best Ville-Marie strives to be an Altmanesque multi-protagonist production trying to transform the hospital and the studio where Sophie’s film is being shot into a Grand Hotel effusive with activity. But it seldom hits any of those high notes and is instead an often predictable pastiche of other films you’d rather be watching.
The film within a film is Sirkian hued but more hostile, which includes a downplayed rape and then later a poorly presented abortion. That these elements are so matter-of-factly presented is lamentable, and it must be said that the other behind-the-scenes elements are gratingly superficial and sorely stereotypical.
Bellucci gives it her all but her character is often too highly assessed — she cries, she sings, she cries some more — or exploited. Though it is refreshing to see that Bellucci’s aging naturally and is lovely as ever, it seems that her role is meant to be awards bait, but who’s Édoin fooling with such transparency?
Ville-Marie is a mixed bag, offering some effective moments of relatable drama and top drawer performances — the hospital staff are mostly unscathed though they feel like they’re all on a nighttime soap — but it’s all so often interspersed with foreseeable conclusions, mild melodrama, and a wealth of unneeded schmaltz. Ville-Marie has so many flat tires, no wonder it crashes.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)