Elles étaient cinq

After Manon (Jacinthe Laguë) runs into the man (Peter Miller) who brutally raped her and one of her friends (Noémie Yelle) when they were teenagers, she’s terrified and overwhelmed that the monster from her past has been released from prison. In an attempt to make sense of these bad memories, Manon reunites with her high school girlfriends for a trip back to the country house where tragedy struck 15 years ago.

Let me make this clear: rape is NOT something to laugh at. But this movie is! For most of the 80 minute running time, I had to repress my amusement, lest the people around me think I thought all the rape and murder business was jolly good fun. Again, the subject matter is not funny in the least and the sexual assault scene itself is disturbing, but whatever visceral impact the film has early on quickly vanishes to give place to ridiculously trite melodrama. Particularly unconvincing is the tentative relationship between Manon and an effete co-worker (Sylvain Carrier) with whom she shares a love for hot-dogs.

The only bright spot is Jacinthe Laguë, who manages to be mysterious, radiant and touching as Manon in spite of the mediocre writing. Unfortunately, her co-stars don’t fare as well and they indulge in a lot of embarrassing overacting. Then again, even the best actress in the world couldn’t sell a line like “Moi avec mon judo, je l’aurais sauvée Sophie!” Author Chantal Cadieux is obviously well intentioned, but her story and dialogue are way too heavy-handed. It’s like that 1970s ad where someone litters then the camera pans to a crying Indian: well meant, but pretty laughable.

The film feels like a stretched out episode of “Watatatow”. Like the long-running Radio-Canada teen soap, “Elles étaient cinq” gives the distinct impression that it was conceived by social workers who know a lot about the issues but precious little about screenwriting. When you add that to awful supporting performances and direction as subtle as a fire truck (Ghyslaine Côté’s feature debut was “Pin-Pon, le film”, after all), it’s really hard to take the film seriously.