2009, Movies

Carcasses (2009, Denis Côté)

Carcasses is part of that trend in Canadian independent film in the early years of the 20th century to mix documentary style with fictional or plots, sometimes with people playing themselves. (I say Canadian trend because most of the films I have seen that do this are Canadian films from this time, or thereabouts.  I have no idea whether it was part of a larger trend of if Canadian filmmakers were ahead of or behind the times.)

I generally like these kinds films for two reasons: they play with audience expectations and they remind us that every film is a construction, no matter how “cinema verite” the finished product feels. But this is one such film where I’m not sure what to do with the fictional element.

The first part of the film is a quiet, borderline fly-on-the-wall study of a real person (as far as I know) running an automobile salvage lot somewhere outside of Montreal. It’s a deliberately-paced film with huge stretches without dialogue, so if you don’t like quiet in movies, or you’re impatient, you won’t like this. But if you don’t mind watching a man go about his work and occasionally talking to the camera or customers, then you will have no problem with this part. If you are a fan of the Frederick Wiseman style of documentary film, you’ll enjoy this both for its uniqueness and for its relative brevity.

If you read the back of the DVD package, or read up on the film online, the descriptions make it sound like this “documentary” part of the film is a trick, a lead-in to what could be one of those classic American (style) films about violence. However, that’s not what happens. And what happens is where I lose my ability to figure out what to do with this film. To quote Variety, the rest of the film amounts to “sketchy provocation.”


There are at least two major ethical dilemmas for viewers watching a film  cast with people with Down Syndrome. The first is, were they capable of consenting to be in a film? The second is, how does the film represent the actor or the actors with Down syndrome? (These are, at least, the firs two that come to mind.)

The strangers that come to the salvage yard are four people with Down Syndrome. They are presented in the usual way that such actors would be in a film in which a man living alone has strangers force themselves onto his property, only they have Down Syndrome. Is this a comment on an over-used trope in American cinema? Is this something else? We don’t know, because nothing really happens. Instead, we’re left trying to interpret the images and the teeniest amount of dialogue, and wondering “Why actors with Down Syndrome?”

But it sure made me think.


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