L’affaire Dumont

This is the kind of review I like writing the least: those for good films that somehow leave me frustrated. The last thing you want to do is sound like you want to tell a talented filmmaker what he should have done differently, but then…

So what’s my beef with L’affaire Dumont? In short, I wish director Daniel Grou-Podz wouldn’t have been so dead set on making such a stark, cold, gray, barebones film. This also describes his previous features I suppose – Les Sept jours du talion, which I liked quite a lot, and 10 1/2, which I rather disliked – but it particularly bugged me this time around.

Part of it might have had to do with the fact that I recently watched Richard Linklater’s Bernie which, like L’affaire Dumont, is a true crime story set in a lower-class milieu. By all accounts, Linklater’s film is very faithful to what really happened and he perfectly captured the way the people and places involved were, but he also took some liberties and allowed himself to make one hell of an enjoyable movie. Whereas Podz’ film, in spite of all its qualities (a terrific cast, among other things), can be a chore to sit through.

Did it have to be so humorless? I’m not asking it to be as hilarious as Bernie, but that film did show that you can tell a tragic story without being stone-cold serious all the time. Poor, miserable, desperate people joke around too, you know! Laughter being one of the best way to cope with rough circumstances, often times.

Some of Podz’ best qualities as a filmmaker are sharpness and precision – he always shows just what he needs to, avoiding anything superfluous. His films are very direct, they don’t fuck around… Now, here’s the thing: to me, it can be a good thing to fuck around in a movie. To color outside the lines. To go over the top. Otherwise, why not make a documentary?

L’affaire Dumont tells the story of Michel Dumont (Marc-André Grondin, who completely disappears into the role – I literally forgot it was him during long stretches) who, in the early 1990s, was convicted for a rape he didn’t commit. The film shows in detail how the Quebec legal system screwed him over and over, and it’s infuriating to see but, again, a documentary could have done the same thing. The part that’s most fascinating about it and which needed to be recreated through fiction is the amazing love story between Dumont and Solange Tremblay (Marilyn Castonguay) that not only survived but flourished during his ordeal.

Wouldn’t it have been appropriate for the movie to reflect the wonder of that? Here’s a real-life example of Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love triumphing over endless obstacles, but all those positive things are extremely subdued and we never really get that triumphant feeling. Podz is always willing to show the worst real-life horrors. more power to him for that, but in return, couldn’t his films also embrace the best things in life? I’m not saying that Podz should go all Spielberg on us (though I personally would love to see that!), but how about going for the general tone and style of Erin Brockovich? Here’s another film based on actual events that told a rather dramatic story but that still managed to be funny, charming, inspiring and whatnot, while not going for all-out Hollywood fireworks, thanks to the strong and steady hand of the great Steven Soderbergh.

One relatively simple way L’affaire Dumont could have been improved, I feel, is through the use of music. Podz already had the brilliant idea to hire Man an Ocean to compose and perform an original score, and every time we hear said score, it’s very effective. It’s crazy how cathartic a simple piano melody can be, in a movie or anywhere else for that matter. But I would have liked a lot more of it, to really get to the emotions clearly present in the story, but that are so muted in the way it’s told.

So yeah, that’s what frustrated me. But let me stress again that this remains a solid, well crafted, brilliantly acted film. I should also mention the ballsy inclusion of actual news footage, which doesn’t break the illusion but actually reinforces it.