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Un Crabe Dans la Tête (Soft Shell Man) | Review

Some Good Signs, Some Bad Signs

Misguided but not totally horrible.

Just a little over a year ago, I had the pleasure of discovering a film that encapsulates the rise in a promising future in Québécois cinema with Dennis Villeneuve’s Maëlstrom. For me the most alluring point about the film was the cinematography courtesy of director of photography André Turpin. Now he establishes himself as another of these local-talent ed-30-somethings-Québécois-directors with his first major feature, Un Crabe dans la Tête.

The introduction gives us all the reason to sympathize with him- a freak accident as a deep ocean photographer and a certain quirkiness quality when he stumbles back into the arms of life’s little surprises a world in which he almost lost. The film’s protagonist Alex-brilliantly played by David La Haye (Cosmos) is one guy with a major monkey on his back. Alex’s inability to make decisions and live up to his responsibilities lead him to a life of disarray he is just as lost in the darkness of the bottom depths of the ocean as he is on the surface among the rest of humanity. He is motivated by a whimsical attitude, letting himself go where the next gust of wind takes him inadvertently falling in love with anyone who crosses his path. The narrative suggests that the protagonist’s inner confusion is in one way or another related to the his surroundings-which are for the most part a bunch of friends for whom he cares for (in the eyes of the viewer these relationships seem superficial giving the impression that they seem more like acquaintances than the authentic closeness which is implied).

Turpin puts the main character through a series of relationship twists and turns, which furthermore conveys the notion of complexity between the protagonist’s motivations and the protagonist’s actions. We believe in the pretence that Alex is psychologically a little off-balance, but this erratic behaviour explains very little about why he is at one time, afraid of letting a couple of people (his best friend, his agent, his junkie friend) down, and why during other times he does the complete opposite with his former wife and his girlfriends. The camera effects of the protagonist’s eyes almost shaking out of his head and/or the shots of a crab crawling inside a brain are cool visually but insignificant. It does very little in terms of foreshadowing.

I liked Alex’s marvel at the world of deaf people, his attraction for this handicap parallels the tranquility and the solitude in his profession-something that he seeks because it enables him to escape and reach a certain calamity and certain equilibrium in his life as he voices himself on more than one occasion that he is fascinated by this world. I liked how Turpin explores their relationship (Sara and Alex) with the swimming pool experience and the evening affair at the art gallery. Turpin’s script uses the lenses to simply observe the character, but he never fully unravels Alex’s secrets, he doesn’t dig deep enough into his torment and his ineptitudes in human relations- but then again this starts off as a comedy and further blends itself into a more dramatic-like serenity. On the other hand, Turpin’s continues to impress with another film that has some great visuals, especially the under water photography-which is always a delight for me especially when the imagery is reminiscent of Besson’s Le Grand Bleu. Obviously, Turpin is more at ease with the photography of the film than any other process of filmmaking; even his more simple urban content shots of human interaction are well composed within the frame.

There is this likeability factor about the film, it rubs the viewer off in the right way in part because of a nice dose of simple humour, but this comes with a film narrative that is a little weak. I also found that the film did not explore the protagonist’s dance with death and the effects it may have played into his personality or his motivations especially in the film’s closing moments. Un Crabe dans la Tête definitely merits the praise that it has been getting, I’m convinced that Turpin’s next will be much more accomplished work, but in the meantime I’ll embrace this piece as a film of importance in the current stature of promising artists coming from my neck of the woods. It will also be showcased at this year’s Sundance 2002 film festival.

Rating 2.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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