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Chris Knight: Let's keep Hollywood away from this charming, bittersweet Quebec film

Andrée Lachapelle et Gilbert Sicotte in And the Birds Rained Down.
Andrée Lachapelle et Gilbert Sicotte in And the Birds Rained Down.

The more I enjoy a foreign-language film, the more I fear for the possibility of an English-language remake. And I fear greatly for this one. Recommend this Quebec charmer to whomever you like, but please keep Clint Eastwood, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman away from the rights.

Based on the popular novel Il pleuvait des oiseaux by Canadian writer Jocelyne Saucier, And the Birds Rained Down opens somewhat confusingly on a pair of deaths. In the woods of northern Quebec, Ted (Kenneth Welsh) has decided to end his life. He leaves behind a family of sorts – two fellow elderly semi-hermits who live off the grid with their faithful dogs.

Meanwhile, Steve (Éric Robidoux) has just lost his father, and we see him taking Gertrude (Andrée Lachapelle), an aunt he barely knows, to the funeral. She’s been in a psychiatric institution for years – the film suggests there’s nothing really wrong with her – and confides in Steve that she doesn’t want to go back.

So he takes her to hide out with the hermits, not far from the rundown hotel he manages. And then a rare guest arrives, photographer Rafaëlle (Ève Landry), who is documenting the survivors of a forest fire that ravaged the area decades ago; the affect of its asphyxiating smoke gives the movie its name.

Writer/director Louise Archambault is known for her sympathetic protagonists – see 2005’s Familia or the 2013 festival charmer Gabrielle – and this one is no exception. The love and understanding that exists among some of the characters and blossoms between others never feels forced or inevitable; rather, it’s as haphazard and organic as the woodsy setting, which is beautifully captured by cinematographer Mathieu Laverdière.

The film’s turn-of-the-decade release date is appropriate, since the story shifts between glancing backward and ahead. The old men in the woods all have pasts that haunt them to various degrees – it’s instructive that one of them has named his beloved dog Drink – but we watch as several of the characters grapple with the idea of experiencing future happiness.

It’s a bittersweet tale, the mood perhaps best summed up by one of Rafaëlle’s subjects, talking about the effects of the ancient conflagration that sundered families and singed romances. “It’s not fire that haunts us,” she says. “It’s love.”

4 stars

And the Birds Rained Down opens Jan. 10 in Vancouver, and Jan. 24 in Toronto.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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