Monday, November 17, 2008

The Tracey Fragments (2007)

Director: Bruce McDonald
Country: Canada

This next film comes from my home country, Canada, and it makes me rather proud. The Tracey Fragments is truly Canadian not just in terms of origin, but also because it perfectly represents the unique, unconventional tendency that is inherent in our national cinema from the experimental works of partners Michael Snow and Joyce Wieland to the tales of "the new flesh" from David Cronenberg to the eccentric delights of Winnipeg-born mad scientist Guy Maddin (of course, there are plenty of films of ours out there that bear the embarrassing signs of having tried to imitate the formula or style of Hollywood films - the fact that these films are often not very good should be taken as a sign that Canadian film is better off doing its own thing instead of following in its Southern neighbor's footsteps). And what's more, this is a film worthy of celebration not just because it is different, but also because it is a brilliant, beautiful piece of work which owes a significant amount of its success to its uniqueness. In other words, it conducts a completely successful marriage of style and substance (as opposed to using style for its own sake), producing a totally distinct and powerful artistic experience. I honestly, truly believe that The Tracey Fragments is one of the most original cinematic expressions to come in a long time and just as much of a revelation in film form as Breathless.

The linear storyline of this non-linear film is as follows: teenager Tracey Berkowitz (played by Ellen Page at the height of her acting talent thus far) is stuck in an unhappy life. Her parents are distanced and emotionally unstable, and she is constantly tormented at school. To top it off, she has hypnotized her little brother Sonny into thinking he's a dog. One day, Sonny goes missing, and Tracey sets off through the urban landscape (the film was shot in Toronto and Hamilton) to find him, encountering a variety of characters and coming to terms with her past, decisions and feelings in the process.

This would be decent enough material for a "normal" film, but what sets The Tracey Fragments apart from the pack is its use of multiple frames on the screen almost entirely throughout its duration, allowing the filmmakers a greater degree of creativity in depicting Tracey's emotional and mental states and viewers some choice in how they watch the film (i.e. which frames to concentrate on at any given moment). The film was shot on digital cameras in two weeks, but apparently took nine months to edit. However, if the emotional punch that the film packs is any indication, the time spent was well worth it. In addition to the multi-framing device, The Tracey Fragments employs eloquently-written monologues from Tracey delivered through voice-over and direct address to the camera that provide searing, revealing insight into the young protagonist and her thoughts and feelings surrounding the people she knows and meets and situations she experiences. Though it tells a story, The Tracey Fragments first and foremost immerses the viewer into its main character in a way that has never quite been accomplished in film before.

In a way, The Tracey Fragments can be seen as a worthy successor to David Lynch's 2006 film INLAND EMPIRE. It too was shot on digital cameras and focuses on the psychology of a female protagonist, but it is often quite murky and too strange for its own good - even for viewers expecting the typical strangeness of its eccentric director. Still, that film was a brave and admirable first step in a new direction in filmmaking possibilities, and The Tracey Fragments makes the next logical step forward with a great deal more effectiveness.

To see this film is to open one's mind to the possibilities of the cinematic art form and be swept up in a beautiful, lyrical work of art. Through the power of its lead performance and the ingenuity and strategy of its editing structure, The Tracey Fragments brings its title character to life with an unparalleled potency. For those who have ever been curious about the possibilities of cinematic experimentation or the still new and strange world of digital cinema, those who can't get enough of Ellen Page or who are curious to see if she can go beyond the spunky, likeable characters she plays in Juno and Smart People, or those who simply seek a profound, poetic movie-going experience, I have only three words for you: see this film.


Psicanzuelo said...

Interesting, check mine

Jeff said...

Not too Canadian of you to spell "neighbour" without the "u".

For shame, Marc. And when writing about a Canadian movie too. Tisk tisk.

I've still got to see this movie. You've raved about it for months and got me interested. Perhaps next time I'm up there I'll bother you and take a ganter.