Keith Behrman knows what he’s doing. It’s no coincidence that the Canadian director’s first feature film, Flower and Garnet, is as emotionally wrought in story as it is in style. Behrman gives content and form equal importance in a film that deals with the fairly conventional themes of loss, misdirected anger and the redemptive power of love in an unconventionally subtle way.
Flower and Garnet is about a man struggling to cope with the loss of his wife after she dies giving birth to their son, Garnet. The father, Ed (Callum Keith Rennie), never confronts his grief and instead hands responsibility of the baby over to his six-year-old daughter, Flower. Ten years later Flower (Jane McGregor) becomes pregnant and out of frustration over her father’s staggering emotional ineptitude, she moves out, leaving Garnet (Colin Roberts) and Ed staring at each other in the hallway – bewildered – as if they were strangers. When Flower leaves, relationships that have become tangled and stagnant over the years are forced to unravel.
Behrman’s career up until now has been in short films and this first attempt at feature-length has him being compared to such cinematic masters as Igmar Bergman. This association is, perhaps, optimistically exaggerated, though Behrman’s style is refreshingly distinct. The film’s opening shots are simple and yet jarring enough to stand out. A buffer humming along grey linoleum floors, a wall clock and a discarded, tooth-marked Styrofoam cup waiting precariously on the edge of a hospital waiting room chair for we-know-not-what. These images confront us head-on and close up and are wrapped around a silence that is woven throughout the entire film.
This film seems fascinated, as is so often the case with Canadian films, with impossibly depressing material. Ed’s relationship with his children is painfully incompetent and emotionally stifled and, to Behrman’s credit, the film’s entire world is inundated with details that symbolize that withdrawal.
Frequent shots through rain-smeared windowpanes or blurry binoculars are disorienting and fracture the image as seen through Garnet’s affection-starved eyes. Dialogue is used so sparingly that it seems to come in waves; chapters of discussion that interrupt character interactions that are, more often than not, wordless. Perhaps the most frequently referenced symbol is the landscape itself which, in true British Columbian form, is almost always marked by an overcast sky, weighing heavily on the village of Ashcroft, where the film takes place. Behrman’s tendency to cut from interior character-filled shots to exterior long shots of winding roads or a motionless lake and the ever-present looming grey sky works well. In fact, the film is sensitively and intelligently well-shot and edited, attributes that come second only to performance.
If for nothing else, see this film for the incredible performances by its three lead characters, played by relatively unknown Canadians. Reenie, McGregor and Roberts give the film its heartbeat and manage to impart meaning in a film that is so sparsely populated by dialogue. Roberts, in particular, is heartbreaking as Garnet.
Behrman’s details highlight the extraordinary quality that ordinary things unexpectedly acquire. A heavy sky, a jar full of worms, an impaled gummy bear, a ceramic Santa Claus used as target practice – these are Behrman’s indicators. Pay attention to them, and the film will open up before your eyes.
Flower and Garnet is playing at AMC Theatre, 2313 Ste. Catherine W. (Atwater metro).