Canada’s reputation as the cinematic body part capital of the world gets another horrific shot in the arm with Robin Aubert’s Saint Martyrs of the Damned. However, like last year’s The Limb Salesman (cross-reference below) this film is much deeper than its generous portions of gore, grief and gestation-from-hell. Its thick subtext of playing Russian roulette with Nature and the ultimate expression of tough-family-love will leave the thoughtful viewer doubly enthralled and provoked.
Director of photography, Steve Asselin’s sepia-like canvas (considerably assisted by Yves Desrosier’s gripping score) is populated with a freakish cast of the residents of Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés, many of whom are mysteriously disappearing from the tax rolls of this remote Québec village.
Raoul Bosh (Pierre Collin), editor of a fantastical publication that features triple-breasted women, gets wind of the story and sends his ace reporter Flavien Juste, (François Chénier, who glues the production together with understated inner knowledge) to get the exclusive from the damned. Juste brings along his photographer friend Armand Despas (Patrice Robitaille, a thoroughly convincing screamer; sadly, his considerable skills were under utilized due to meager script/screen time), even though he hasn’t quite finished the current issue’s cover shot of a three-legged drag queen. But what they discover in the village makes an extra appendage seem positively normal.
After the sleuths check in to l’Auberge des deux Malvina (keep an eye out for the metaphoric road sign on their drive in), the ghouls come out of the woodwork and Despas vanishes—shortly after a fascinating stare-ahead dialogue with his best friend. The hunt is on. Led by a transparent ghostly bride (easy to follow due to her train of cans), the steely reporter begins his personal quest only to be ignored, chased or beaten by the townsfolk. It falls to the mentally challenged Médé (Carl Hennebert, sensitively brilliant) to—through his teddy bear, Raymond—reveal some of the goings on. This is a wonderful touch after hearing that “they [townsfolk] hate anyone different,” and in stark contrast to his mother (Sylvie Boucher), who unenthusiastically serves up “steak et frites” in panties, garters and bra at the self-named Sexy Rosy café.
As Juste gets closer to the secrets, he falls in love with a stunningly beautiful flower child (Isabelle Blais), whose young son Peanut (Alex Poirier, the picture of innocence) literally comes between them on her bus/home’s rooftop. Now it’s their turn to stare straight up and contemplate a universe where “the stars live forever.” The ensuing love-making scene is a marvel, floating across the screen with a collage of the eerie locals superimposed behind.
As the complex plot and its genealogical components unfold, writer/director Aubert loses steam on the superficial level, even as he stokes the coals of the smouldering undercurrents of the timeless Faustian motive of achieving immortality for a price.
But, if nothing else, the film is a must-see for anyone who has had to confront themselves, admit their truth then take an unselfish step for the greater good. Failing to do so can unleash an even worse monster, the likes of which roam freely in Katrina’s evil wake today. JWR