Color, 2010, 95 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Denis Côté
Starring Emmanuel Bilodeau, Philomène Bilodeau, Roc LaFortune, Sophie Desmarais, Muriel Dutile
Second Run (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Mongrel Media (DVD) (Canada R1 NTSC), Big World Pictures (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The fourth feature film by Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté finds him taking a spare and more accessible approach than some of his earlier festival favorites like Drifting States and All That She Wants. His knack for situating his characters within highly atmospheric and desolate settings is in plentiful abundance here for a character study that only tangentially relates to the local sport of the title and functions well as an incisive little drama with some affinity for the horror genre on the periphery.
On the outskirts of Quebec, young Julyvonne (Philomène Bilodeau) lives in a state of extreme sheltering with her father, Jean-Francois (Emmanuel Bilodeau, her real-life parent), who works dual jobs cleaning at a bowling alley and a hotel. Julyvonne's mother is locked away for initially undisclosed reasons, which means the two exist on their own terms with her homeschooling being one of their more mundane breaks from traditional society. His coworkers try to coax him into being more sociable and allowing his daughter to have contact with others, while tragic and macabre events on the fringes also play a role in what will become a subdued but pivotal life decision.
Though not exactly the warmest film around (literally and figuratively), Curling has a quiet, compelling quality that can catch you off guard (especially given the nastier surprises it has tucked away on the periphery). Côté manages to create a curious little cinematic community where an unlikely local activity can spark a young girl's inner being to life, and he keeps the tone steady throughout without building to the normal kind of dramatic catharsis you'd expect in a standard Hollywood film. (The excellent Leave No Trace eight years later took a similar tactic with an even more extreme father-daughter relationship.) The real-life connection between the Bilodeaus is an interesting choice as well that gives the film a particularly poignant edge, with Philomène allowed to have the film's standout moments including an unexpected bit involving an '80s pop staple by Tiffany.
Though it was released on DVD in the U.S. and Canada a little less than a decade ago, Curling has held a consistently low profile and has been the kind of film you have to hunt around for a bit to discover. That situation should change with the 2020 region-free Blu-ray release from Second Run, the first time it's hit the format anywhere in the world. The new HD transfer (noted as approved by the director) looks very solid with a crisp appearance and a restrained color scheme emphasizing whites and grays (of course); you also get DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM stereo options for the French-Canadian dialogue with optional English subtitles. The 5.1 option is interesting as it's very restrained but has some nice ambiance during the outdoor scenes with wind and other sounds flickering around quite nicely. A new English-language interview with director Denis Côté (25m4s) covers his background from a very non-artistic background through his own awakening to cinema via VHS (especially Dario Argento) and the approach he prefers to take in his own films title by title, including this "intimate, very Canadian" one. The other video extra is "May We Sleep Soundly ("Que nous nous assoupissions") (14m11s), a spooky and enigmatic Côté short from 2015 which is also incredibly wintry but with a far more sinister (if ultimately puzzling) vibe. An insert booklet features new liner notes by critic Adam Nayman and the Canadian Film Institutes's Robert McSorley, featuring as much discussion of the director's overall output as this film and noting some of the recurring motifs involving loneliness and local culture.
Reviewed on April 21, 2020.