When the major national cinemas are rounded up, Canada rarely gets much of a look-in: sometimes blurred with American cinema, sometimes with French, too rarely appreciated on its own. If younger auteurs such as Xavier Dolan – whose work was spotlit in this column earlier this year – are taking it to a brasher place, Canadian cinema retains a reputation for being, certainly relative to its noisy southern neighbour, rather Canadian: quiet, thoughtful, progressive in subtle, unassuming ways. That’s reflected in a season of new Canadian cinema on Curzon Home Cinema: the six-film Canada Now selection spans multiple generations and subcultures of Canuck film-making, forming a national snapshot more interestingly diverse than what tends to filter through to British cinemas.
The selections are being staggered on the Curzon platform through the rest of July, but the best of them – indeed, one of the best films of the year, full stop – is available to stream now. Kazik Radwanski’s punchy, exhilarating Anne at 13,000 Feet is, essentially, a psychological thriller for Generation Anxious, finding tension in the unpredictable rhythms of a young woman’s fragile mental health, without exploiting it for drama. It boasts a singularly astonishing performance by Deragh Campbell as Anne, a 27-year-old daycare worker in Toronto, whose persistent anxiety disorder disrupts her professional life, her dating attempts and even her relationships with loving friends and family – though it seems to desert her when she goes skydiving for a friend’s hen party.
Egoyan's multi-stranded melodrama built on a dysfunctional father-daughter bond is a bewildering affair
Radwanski previously made Tower, a nervy, perceptive portrait of a maladjusted manchild that is available to stream (and decidedly worth doing so) on YouTube. In his latest, he again demonstrates a knack for abrasive but empathetic character studies of social outsiders, which retain a loose, improvisational air despite sophisticated film-making. Incisively clipped to just 75 minutes, Anne at 13,000 Feet reflects its protagonist’s frayed, restless synapses in its aggressive, avant-garde editing style. Despite a strong showing on the festival circuit last year, it hasn’t been picked up for UK distribution in cinemas. This limited Curzon showcase might be your best chance to catch it.
Also streaming now is One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, from director Zacharias Kunuk, whose enthralling 2001 Arctic epic Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner effectively put Inuit cinema on the map. (Never seen it? Remedy that via iTunes.) Kunuk’s latest doesn’t have quite the same mesmerising sweep, but it’s a droll, elegiac period drama, drawn from the true story of a nomadic Inuit family forced into settlement housing in the 1960s. Yung Chang’s documentary This Is Not a Movie, meanwhile, offers a lucid, thorough investigation of the career of the British political correspondent Robert Fisk. It’s illuminating stuff, even if it really could have come from anywhere.
Still to come in the Canada Now season: And the Birds Rained Down, from Quebecois director Louise Archambault (from 17 July). A story of three retirees who choose to live off-grid in the peaceful wilderness, it initially seems to be back-to-nature fare before an early, unexpected tragedy pulls it gently into darker territory. And coming on 31 July is White Lie, a more spikily youthful psychodrama from directing duo Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis, following a young student who embarks on an online fundraising plan for her cancer treatment. The problem? She doesn’t actually have cancer. As her scheme collapses, the film’s knots tighten and twist to gripping effect.
Rounding out the programme is Atom Egoyan’s Guest of Honour, which I was hoping to say is a return to form for a director who has gone bizarrely off-course since his elegant 90s heyday. Alas, this thoroughly eccentric, multi-stranded melodrama built on a dysfunctional father-daughter bond is a bewildering affair, with an untethered lead performance by David Thewlis as a restaurant inspector gone wildly rogue.
If nothing else, it’ll make you hanker for another look at an enduring Canadian classic, The Sweet Hereafter (1997). Egoyan’s still-haunting meditation on grief and guilt is also streaming on Curzon, and in the wake of Ian Holm’s recent death, one hopes many are revisiting his career-best performance in it. Canada Now is good; Canada then wasn’t too shabby either.
Also new on streaming and DVD
Todd Haynes’s environmental thriller was unjustly sidelined in cinemas last year, and in awards season, but it’s exceptional: an atypical genre for the director that he makes his own with stormy visual beauty and a seething, weighty moral conscience.
True History of the Kelly Gang
Another darkly atmospheric stunner that got less than its due on release. Aussie auteur Justin Kurzel bounces back from the disaster of Assassin’s Creed with a thrillingly ripe, rowdy adaptation of Peter Carey’s Booker-winning novel.
Who You Think I Am
(Curzon Artificial Eye, 15)
Juliette Binoche as a divorcee catfishing her ex’s twentysomething roommate: Safy Nebbou’s unusual blend of stalker thriller and romantic comedy risks being terminally silly, but winds up surprising, sexy and warmly perceptive.
Craig Zobel’s daft allegorical horror film about American “deplorables” being literally hunted by elites should go right into any 2020 time capsule. It’s not good, exactly, but it is luridly compelling, and superb star Betty Gilpin rises heroically above it.
You can see why Andrew Heckler’s well-acted, well-intended film never made it to cinemas, despite winning a Sundance audience award two years ago. It treads carefully, but its story of a dim Ku Klux Klan member trying to reform himself is a risky one to tell.