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TIFF 2021 Review: Maria Chapdelaine – “The cinematography is beautiful”

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A teenage girl living in rural early 1900s Quebec has three suitors but a deep attachment to her own family.

 A glance of longing inside of a church reveals that teenage Maria Chapdelaine is on the cusp of adulthood.  It has not gone unnoticed as three suitors emerge in the form of a fur trader, neighbouring pioneer, and a miller based in America.  Life is hard in rural Quebec as the environment is unforgiving.  There is unrest as the patriarch keeps moving further away from the encroaching civilization which in turn isolates his family from the rest of the world. There are visitors but travelling is not an act of leisure as it riddled with danger caused by the beautiful but also deadly natural elements.

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Even though the source material authored by Louis Hémon is classified as a romance novel, there are no illicit steaming love affairs but more wishful glances and gentlemanly advances.  In many ways, the family dynamic and struggles between themselves and the land overshadows whatever melodrama can be found of a young woman coming of age and drawing the attention of male admirers.  Trees have a prominent role whether it be going through the forest, cutting them down or even the stumps they leave behind that litter the landscape.

Sara Montpetit portrays Maria with an alluring shyness who tells a lot with her eyes as to what she is feeling; she is not immune to acts of emotion such as the dramatic static shot of her running out wearing a nightgown in the middle of the winter and her father rushing out to bring her back inside.  One has to be thankful that filmmaker Sébastien Pilote chose not to indulge in sex scenes as a glance can be just as sensual.  The cinematography is beautiful and the editing allows for the audience to spend time with the different characters; however, there could be some tightening of the narrative as the pace plods along.

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 9-18, 2021, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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