‘Oh, Canada’ Review: Richard Gere And His ‘American Gigolo’ Filmmaker Paul Schrader Reunite For Reflective Drama About Truth, Regrets And Mortality – Cannes Film Festival

Hard to believe it has been 44 years since Paul Schrader and star Richard Gere last worked together on 1980’s seminal American Gigolo, a film that became not just a keystone in Gere’s celebrated career but also one for one Schrader’s as one of his earliest directorial credits. Of course he has written some of the great screenplays, particularly in his collaborations with Martin Scorsese on Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ and Taxi Driver. But it is what interests him now a half century later as a writer-director that continues to fascinate.

In recent years that has included insular works like The Card Counter, Master Gardener and the critically acclaimed First Reformed. Now he has returned to more of what he labels a “mosaic,” in this case a movie made up of pieces of a life put under a cinematic microscope at different periods, all moving in and out of the mind of a man who is dying but still lucid enough to tell the truths of his life as time is running out, some revealed for the first time as he grapples with both morality and mortality.

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It is a complex theme, but Schrader in just a trim 95 minutes manages to takes us on the journey of the life of a documentary filmmaker, Leonard Fife (Gere), as he sits for an interview with another filmmaker, Malcolm (Michael Imperioli), a former student, and tells his story. It’s one Schrader presents visually via present day and flashbacks — four time frames actually, with two actors, Gere as the older and Jacob Elordi as the younger Fife, playing the man in different periods, even in some cases where the older and younger version collide.

The idea of dealing with end of life and facing the truth head on in front of a camera is certainly an intriguing one, helped especially by making Fife a documentary creator himself, a man used to putting real lives on the screen, if not always copping to the realities of his own past transgressions and questionable actions. As he sits insisting his wife (and producer) Emma (Uma Thurman) be right there watching, she and we discover things perhaps long hidden – affairs, estrangements, agonizing decisions, buried truths – as the interview goes on.

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The idea for Schrader came from his friend and author Russell Banks who was in a similar frame of mind and wrote a book, Foregone, that inspired Schrader’s screenplay, which was not finished before Banks passed away. In fact, Banks had asked Schrader to revert to his book’s original title which was “Oh, Canada” which he was unable to publish with. Banks incidentally had also written Affliction, which Schrader turned into an excellent 1997 movie that won James Coburn the Supporting Actor Oscar.

Schrader and his cinematographer Andrew Wonder also employ at least four different aspect ratios, and color and black and white palettes, to represent the various periods beginning with the ’60s, a time of great strife with the Vietnam War raging and a draft lottery that presents the young Fife with a moral conundrum — to serve or flee to Canada, a decision that becomes messy for him with a young pregnant then-wife Alicia (Kristine Froseth) and other responsibilities. It weaves in and out of this period with Gere’s older Fife trading places with Elordi’s younger Fife.

It was a time when young men who might not have been lucky with their draft lottery numbers had to make tough decisions about potentially dying in an unjust war far away. But there is so much else uncovered in this mosaic and I actually found myself actually wanting more, a rarity since generally I think movies in general are much too long these days. There is a particularly wrenching and well-acted scene years later as Leonard’s long estranged son, Cornel (Zach Shaffer), confronts his distant father in front of an unknowing Emma. Characters like that pop in and out, but none of the supporting cast are given the kind of screen time that might flesh out their characters with much dimension. That is left for Gere, Elordi, and Thurman, and to a lesser degree Imperioli.

Schrader has a habit of making spare movies but this one by its very nature is played on a wider field, thought there is no studio budget to really open it up to perhaps the scope the material and book deserve, maybe like Schrader and Gere had all those years ago with American Gigolo. It is a small film, but a vital one thanks certainly to Gere who has of late, like Schrader, been working a lot in indie movies and giving some great performances (check out the criminally underrated Norman for one example). He is again simply superb here, nailing every aspect of this man looking back, sadly the only direction he has left to explore.

Elordi does well too, suggesting just enough to make us believe he is the younger Leonard. In fact if anyone is looking to do a remake of American Gigolo, this is your guy. Thurman is also excellent here in a role that she brings to life despite the fact it is a woman who much of the time is there just looking on from the sidelines. She manages to say it all with her eyes — concern for her husband and mentor, the empathy and surprise, everything the role requires.

If nothing else Oh, Canada is thought provoking and worthwhile. Maybe it could even inspire others to perhaps examine their own lives before it is too late to do so.

It is looking for distribution. Producers are Tiffany Boyle, Luisa Law, Meghan Hanlon, Scott Lastaiti, and David Gonzales. By my estimate there are 39(!) others with executive producer titles, thus proving it is never easy to get these indies made.

Title: Oh, Canada
Festival: Cannes (Competition)
Director-screenwriter: Paul Schrader
Cast: Richard Gere, Uma Thurman, Jacob Elordi, Michael Imperioli, Zach Shaffer, Kristine Froseth, Jake Weary
Sales agent: WME Independent
Running time: 1 hr 35 min

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