Piché entre ciel et terre


This is a prime example of what critic Mike D’Angelo calls a Wikipedia movie, i.e. a picture that’s content with only “providing a visual representation of its subject’s Wikipedia entry.” This kind of by-the-numbers biopic or historical drama can still be worth one’s time if said subject is fascinating, but I can’t say that’s the case here.

Sure, it’s impressive that on August 24th, 2001, Commandant Robert Piché (Michel Côté) managed to make an emergency landing of Air Transat Flight 236 in the Azores after the plane ran out of fuel, effectively saving the live of some 300 passengers and crew members. And I guess there’s an interesting twist in how, during the media frenzy that followed, Piché was initially hailed as a hero, then abruptly brought off his pedestral when news surfaced that he had once served time in jail for flying illegal drugs from Jamaica to the United States.

But is there a whole feature in just those two events? An inspired filmmaker could certainly make the case that there is, but that filmmaker is not Sylvain Archambault. Having mostly directed Quebec TV series (he also helmed the critically reviled 2009 box-office bomb “Pour toujours, les Canadiens”), Archambault seems unwilling or unable to change his shooting style, which makes for a film sorely lacking in cinematic grandeur.

Save for the aforementioned more spectacular events (the crash landing, the drug smuggling, the prison sentence), which take up a relatively small portion of the running time, “Piché entre ciel et terre” is mostly concerned with its protagonist’s alcohol problem and his rocky relationships with his successive wives and his children, both before and after that fateful 2001 flight. This makes for a lot of dull and generic melodrama, where subtlety, nuances and depth are utterly absent. Contrived dialogue and forced emotions abound, and more than anything, we just don’t care.

Not only because in general, Piché is not all that interesting, but because… Well, to be frank, he seems to be kind of an asshole. Until his last-minute tearful personal redemption, he’s this cursing, drunken, ass-grabbing fool who treats everyone around him like shit, yet he’s portrayed as a victim for some reason. Maybe I lack in compassion, but I didn’t feel bad for him going to jail, as he was kind of asking for it by deciding to smuggle drugs into the US. As for his being an alcoholic, I’m also having trouble excusing all his actions on that account.

In any case, going back to my original point, all that stuff just isn’t worth our time, at least as handled here. Archambault tries to shake things up by constantly jumping back and forth in time between the events that surrounded the emergency landing, Piché going into rehab about a year later, and his wild days in the 1980s (the young Piché is played by Michel Côté’s son, Maxime LeFlaguais). I guess the point of this non-chronological storytelling is, on the one hand, to never keep movie star Côté off-screen for too long, and on the other, to keep the only truly extraordinary moment of Piché’s life for the film’s climax.

Alas, even that the big show in the doomed plane over the Atlantic ain’t all that engrossing. What drama or suspense can there be when we already know that it’ll all end up okay? Now, we also knew how things would turn out from the get-go in “United 93”, for example, but since our prior knowledge was of a tragedy, we were filled with dread at what was going to happen. That, plus the fact that Paul Greengrass is an infinitely superior filmmaker to Sylvain Archambault…