AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2013
By Linc Leifeste | October 28, 2013
Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Writers: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, Marc Tulin
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Marc Labrèche, Vincent Hoss-Desmarais, Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, Anie Pascale, Geneviève Laroche, Isabelle Nélisse
Much like the act of violence that is the catalyst for the story, Canadian actor/director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais’ feature film debut, Whitewash, seemingly comes out of nowhere. It is a sparse, dark and compelling work of art that lands a gut-wrenching sucker punch to the viewer’s solar plexus before masterfully unraveling both the roots of the violence and its consequences via parallel storylines. Bathed in the suffocating darkness of a snow-covered rural Canadian winter, Thomas Haden Church powerfully garners the majority of screen time in a film that is equally sparsely populated both by people and dialogue.
The film opens with a nighttime snow-covered scene of a man striding down a street with a purpose. Clothed inadequately for the weather and winded, he stops to take a breath only to be overtaken and rammed by a man driving a Bobcat. The driver proceeds to load the body on the Bobcat and dump it on the side of the road before covering it over with snow. The driver, drinking liberally as he goes, proceeds to tear off through the woods ultimately throwing a tread and bottoming out in the middle the snow-covered forest. Quite an opening.
As he initially struggles to first find his way out of the woods before struggling to find a way to survive hiding in the woods, we learn more about the killer, Bruce (Church), as well as the victim, Paul (Marc Labrèche), through a well executed series of flashbacks. Bruce is a man whose life has recently derailed, his wife dying of cancer and him losing his job due to a drunken accident. At a stop-off at a convenient store for a six-pack he stumbles across Paul attempting to commit suicide via car-exhaust-asphyxiation in the parking lot and thwarts his attempt, thus saving his life. Attempting to lend a further helping hand, he allows Paul to come to his house and stay for a night but Paul is a bit of a manipulator. One night turns to two and soon Paul’s offering to pay for a night at the local pub but sticking Bruce with the bill before ultimately asking Bruce to loan him money to pay off a large gambling debt.
The film brilliantly uses minimal narrative and visual cues to express the ways in which Paul’s stay pushes an already-drowning Bruce’s head under the water, forcing him to lash out for survival. While the story gives the viewer the impression of a basically good man who momentarily snaps under extreme pressure, Church’s spot-on performance is exquisitely nuanced. In his limited interactions, one never knows for sure what violence he might be capable of or which road he will choose to go down.There are welcome moments of black humor but ultimately the tone is one of despair and struggle in this refreshingly original film. Despite limited action and interaction, it nonetheless crackles with tension throughout its 90-minute-running-time and left me expecting great things to come from director Hoss-Desmarais.