Franco-Manitoban director Ryan McKenna (The First Winter) has shown that he is interested in making quirky, surreal and edgy films with his work in the past. He continued along that path with his latest film, Le Coeur de Madame Sabali. It is like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel only it takes place mostly in a train station. There are also some David Lynch moments to round out the oddness. Bright colours/art design, sharp cinematography and odd as all get out. McKenna, who also co-wrote the screenplay, has created a wonderfully odd surreal world.
Jeannette Leduc (Marie Brassard – Vic + Flo on vu un ours) leads a very boring life working at the ticket counter in a train station in Montreal and lives in the suburbs with her boyfriend, Bruno (Hugo Giroux – Horloge biologique, L’affaire Dumont). She is stuck in that life because she has a serious heart condition and is waiting for a transplant.
All her female co-workers are pregnant. Jeannette does not want children, but is concerned by the fact that Bruno does not even seem interested in sex with her as they have not been together in that way for two years. He is even disinterested in her when she attempts to spice things up. Jeannette tells him she deserves better than that and tells Bruno they are done.
A male co-worker named Albert (Francis La Haye – The Young Victoria) invites Jeannette to a party. She goes but he never turns up. The next day at work he apologizes saying that he was in his room painting.
Jeannette gets a call from the hospital letting her know they have a heart for her. She undergoes the transplant. While recovering in the hospital she begins having dreams of swimming with her female co-workers and a man stabbing her. She has the same dream over and over. A neuro-psychologist comes in to talk to her about her dreams. He gives her a photo of men to look at. Jeannette identifies the killer. The doctor brings the photo to a detective and tells him Jeannette has identified his suspect as the killer. Jeannette is told that there is a belief that organs can retain the memories of the donor.
When she gets out of the hospital Jeannette undergoes a lot of changes. She begins dating Albert, the dreams continues and she keeps a journal of them, her father tells her that she and Albert and half-siblings, and she meets the son of the woman whose heart she has. The son believes that she is his mother reincarnate. Jeannette’s life is no long dull.
Acting in a film like this can be tricky because there is an inclination to really chew up the brightly coloured scenery. The cast here does not fall into that trap. They all keep it as realistic as possible. Especially lead Marie Brassard, who makes Jeannette, a woman who could be seen as dull and odd, quirky and loveable. It is also an added treat that Malian musical duo Amadou and Mariam pop up in a couple of scenes.
As the story is a little thin and superficial there are times when, even though the film is a tight 1 hour and 20 minutes, it does drag a little and McKenna falls back on forcing things a little. You are quickly snapped back into focusing due to the absolute absurdity of what is happening on the screen
The theory that there is such a thing as cellular memory does not seem like a likely central idea for an absurdist comedy. And yet it is. The idea is that those who have organ transplants might take on the personality of the donor. This is no ordinary comedy film. It stands out from the pack due to its odd and sometimes beautiful nature. Throw in incest, trains, reoccurring dreams, and reincarnation then you have something that will keep you interested.