Les États-Unis d’Albert

The American dream is as old as America itself. The United States have always held a special place in the fantasies of dreamers worldwide. The Land of the Free is especially attractive to Albert Renaud (Éric Bruneau), a young French Canadian who dreams of being the next Rudolph Valentino. He’s been studying acting for years with the great Jane Pickford (Andréa Férréol), not-so-innocently seducing her into sharing her knowledge and recommending him to her niece Mary, a silent film star and one of the founders of United Artists. Unfortunately, their goodbye kiss is too much for Pickford’s heart, so Albert leaves for Hollywood with a guilty conscience – and the old actress’ ghost.

“Les États-Unis d’Albert” is a wonderfully old-fashioned road movie, a period piece that’s more whimsical than historical. The production design is faithful to the looks and fashions of the 1920s, but the plot often forgets about straightforward realism to take wild tangents. Albert spends much of the film lost in the Arizona desert, appropriately dressed as Valentino’s Sheik. With a womanising professional golfer (Roy Dupuis, very funny) at his side, he wanders through endless sand dunes, encountering colourful characters like a sexy Mexican dancer and her creepy “choreographer” (Marc Labrèche) and an asthmatic woman (Céline Bonnier) whose husband lives in a boat on top of a pole. There’s also a nice little romance between Albert and Grace Carson (the always adorable Émilie Dequenne), a militant Mormon feminist.

André Forcier, who wrote and directed the movie, is a unique creature in Quebec cinema. While most of his colleagues are mostly concerned with either navel-gazing auteur film or crassly commercial product, Forcier dares to have vision and ambition. His latest is full of inventive mise en scène and the screenplay is as clever as it can be absurd. The bumpy storytelling and the stylized performances will turn off some people (I saw a few critics walk out), but I’m glad there’s still place for fantasy and goofiness on our screens.

“I found this message for you amongst the remains of a pigeon struck down by the jealousy of a man in a boat floating over the desert!”
“Here’s some change, go take a bath at the Salvation Army.”