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|Written by April Yorke|
|Wednesday, 26 May 2010 00:00|
In the last few months, there have been plenty of movies at the cineplex featuring one of Canada's great cities masquerading as one of the U.S.'s great cities. Naturally, some movies do this better than others. If Toronto seems barely disguised in Kick Ass, imagine how funny it was to spot first a Canadian mailbox, then the TTC logo on the subway in Repo Men. If nothing else, not only filming but setting The Trotsky in Montreal seems refreshing.
Fortunately, that's not the only element of the movie that feels refreshing. Writer-director Jacob Tierney's The Trotsky is neither coming-of-age drama nor typical teen rebel schtick. Tierney eschews the ordinary to tell the story of Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel), a 17-year-old who believes that he's the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky (né Bronstein) and will stop at nothing to fulfill his destiny. After Leon fails to unionize his father's factory, he's sentenced to public school as a punishment. It's there that Leon finds his calling: liberate his fellow students from Prinicipal Berkhoff's (Colm Feore) fascist rule by forming a union (Leon's first act is attending detention out of solidarity).
As concepts go, it sounds gimmicky, but Tierney's got a light touch and keeps the pace moving. He couldn't have found a better face for his movie than Baruchel, a newly minted It-Boy whose up-for-anything approach makes the movie soar. It helps that Tierney knows enough not to make his protagonist infallible. Leon doesn't always say the right thing, and he's not always in the right either. Sometimes his attitude is appalling, like in his initial dealings with the school board, but his ineptitude can also be endearing, like his attempts to win 27-year-old lawyer Alexandra (Emily Hampshire) because she has the right name and is the right age to become his first wife.
In essence, Tierney has created something that flies directly in the face of the rest of the Canadian Cinema Canon. The plot is straightforward and engaging. Though years have elapsed since principal photography, it has a verifiable, even recognizable star at its centre. It's Québecois, but it's in English. Just what's going on here?
The Trotsky isn't Tierney's first rodeo, but it's certainly the most attention-getting. It premiered last fall at TIFF to critical acclaim, eventually making the fest's Top 10 list. Now it's received wide release (at least by Canadian standards) across the country in English and French.
Part of what makes this movie more delightfully Canadian than many others is its ability to be Canadian without ever making a capital case out of it (I'm looking at you, Passchendaele). It helps that it's Montreal-specific: the characters slip between French and English without warning or hesitation, Leon seeks out legal advice from a former Vietnam draft dodger now teaching at McGill, and, when Leon's antics start to attract the media's attention, he remarks that the English community may notice, but the French doesn't care. Tierney isn't trying to tell a distinctly Canadian story. He's telling Leon's story first and foremost, and Leon just happens to be in Montreal.
It's a movie with a definite flavour and attitude, much like its protagonist. Leon's dedicated enough to his reincarnation that he has a list of goals pinned up in his room in a rough timeline (it ends with "get assassinated (hopefully somewhere warm)"), but he's still enough of a teenager to whine that his step-mom's been in his room when she references them.
In many ways, Leon's struggle, Montreal, and the movie itself are too tangled-up to separate. All end up a long way from where they began, but none takes the form you expect them to. Instead, they persevere in order to create something new. The Trotsky is a witty teen romp the likes of which you are unlikely to see again. I just hope Jacob Tierney has more like it up his sleeve.
Previously in Canadian Cinema Canon:
I so appreciated that this movie was set in Montreal - I try to make a point of seeing movies set in Canada.