Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 108 min
Quest Film Productions
, the first of Paul Almond’s trilogy (Isabel, Act of the Heart
), made with Geneviève Bujold, is a pellucid visualization of internalized psychic repression. The dialogue is sparse, there is an intensity in the depiction of the rugged coastal setting, and ordinary objects and events take on mysterious, even symbolic, overtones in a quasi�€'expressionist manner.
Learning of her mother's serious illness, Isabel (Bujold) returns to her family's farm on the Gaspé coast. Her mother dies before she can get there, and when her aged Uncle Matthew (Parkes) asks her to stay on and help him with the farm, she reluctantly agrees. She finds herself haunted by memories of early years: domestic violence, incest and the mysterious deaths of her grandfather, who died in a freak accident, and her father and brother, who both drowned at sea. The house is full of eerie sights and sounds.
Many critics, distrusting Almond's elliptical style and relatively eventless narrative, found the film tedious and pretentious — a horror story trying to take itself seriously. For others, it represented an impressive debut, and perhaps the best film ever made in Canada. Almond was compared to Alain Resnais (for his manipulation of time and space), Carl Dreyer (for the film's sparseness, the surfacing of unconscious forces), Ingmar Bergman (for the visualization of madness) and even Alfred Hitchcock (in the use of certain shots).
Isabel won four Etrogs at the Canadian Film Awards in 1968, four U.S. critics voted it one of the 10 best films of 1968, and it was one of the first Canadian features to be picked up for distribution by a Hollywood major (Paramount). Almond himself was nominated as best director of the year by the Directors' Guild of America.