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  • Benjamin May

Picture Claire (2001) Review

Claire Beaucage is a quirky young artist from Quebec whose apartment mysteriously burns down. Fleeing to Toronto, she tries to find her ex-boyfriend Billy, with whom she is still infatuated. However, it transpires Claire has gotten out of the frying pan and into the fire, for she is immediately involved in a case of mistaken identity with a seductive femme fatale named Lily Warden. As cops and crooks chase her through Toronto, the French-speaking Claire struggles to communicate in English, find Billy and escape the city alive.

Directed by Bruce McDonald from a script by Semi Chellas, 'Picture Claire' is a flawed homage to film-noir that fails to capture the suspense or charm of the genre. Chellas' narrative is unnecessarily complex, attempting to mimic a Hitchcockian tale of mystery and red herrings in a manner more obnoxious than intriguing. A muddled mess of coincidences, bizarre dream-sequences and cliches, the plot is convoluted and confusing. The characters are all one-note caricatures, lacking development or depth, and Chellas' dialogue is laughably pretentious when it isn't formulaic. Though there are a couple of good scenes and some snappy lines- mostly involving a menacing hoodlum prone to monologues- the narrative is exceedingly underwhelming and disappointing.

One of the few redeeming qualities of the film is Miroslaw Baszak's cinematography, which creates a stylish and atmospheric visual palette that heightens the film's links to film-noir. However, even this aspect is marred by the overuse of the multi-dynamic image technique gimmick, which shows several images shifting simultaneously on right-angled panes within the overall image. This technique- first used by Christopher Chapman in his 1967 film 'A Place to Stand'- supposedly creates a dynamic and immersive effect, but in 'Picture Claire', it only serves to distract and annoy the viewer. The technique is used excessively and arbitrarily, without any regard for the narrative or thematic coherence of the film. Instead of enhancing 'Picture Claire's suspense or charm, it only confuses and frustrates with its flashy superficiality.

Additionally, the score from Paul Haslinger- a former member of Tangerine Dream- is a bland and generic blend of ambient, techno and rock elements that fails to create any suspense or excitement. Often drowned out by sound effects and dialogue, his score doesn't match the mood or style the film is striving towards. Though the closing number- Traffic's 'Feelin' Alright?'- is nicely performed by Juliette Lewis, the song itself is a somewhat inappropriate choice for the film, clashing as it does with the stylish and gritty tone McDonald is trying to foster.

Speaking of Juliette Lewis, though she tries her darndest, she is woefully miscast as Claire. Struggling with the French accent throughout, she never quite gets it right, and seems embarrassed anytime she has to speak. Gina Gershon does much more assured work as the feisty femme fatale Lily, though her talents largely go to waste in the face of Chellas' slim characterisation. Callum Keith Rennie shines as the monologue-spouting mobster, bringing a welcome energy and an intimidating aura that makes watching him on screen a real treat.

The fact that director Bruce McDonald made a documentary called 'Claire's Hat'- detailing his disappointment with the finished product- should tell you all you need to know about 'Picture Claire.' The screenplay is full of faults, the dialogue is consistently underwhelming and the cinematography is overly-stylized. Featuring a miscast Juliette Lewis and a bland soundtrack, there is no real reason to seek out the film; unless you're incredibly passionate about Canadian cinema. Despite a few good performances, 'Picture Claire' has very little to offer viewers. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If it's 'Picture Claire', it's barely worth half that.


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