Fragments, The (Canada; 80 min.)
directed by: Bruce McDonald
starring: Ellen Page; Julian Richings; Maxwell McCabe-Lokos
Michael says: "This was surely the year of Ellen Page at the Toronto International Film Festival. After receiving well-deserved accolades for her fine comedic work in JUNO, she turns around a floors audiences in Bruce McDonald's ('Twitch City'; HIGHWAY 61) dramatic feature THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS. This is a film that has the potential to blow your mind, incorporating a strong enough screenplay, a powerhouse lead performance, and a visionary director that pushes the boundaries of filmmaking to take the film's title literally and give the audience visual fragments of the titular character's psyche.
"In some ways, Tracey Berkowitz is similar to Juno, Page's other leading role at the festival. Both are high-school girls on the fringes of that community. But while Juno has a strong support base in her friends and family, Tracey is adrift alone, picked on mercilessly by her peers, and shunned by her parents who find her to be a problem child. Or it's possible that Tracey is just a very disturbed young girl rejecting any assistance that comes her way. The film is told entirely from Tracey's decidedly skewed point-of-view, it is difficult to gauge the ineffectiveness of her parents accurately. Central to the story is the disappearance of Tracey's seven-year-old brother, who thinks he's a dog. The story is told in flashback, through erratic flashes of Tracey's memory, as she rides a bus through the city, wrapped only in a flowered shower curtain, an impending blizzard looming in the near future.
"Two films came to mind as I watched THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS: Lukas Moodysson's LILJA 4-EVER and Darren Aronofsky's PI. The former because we are watching the helpless downward spiral of a girl in way over her head. The latter because of the visual and aural assault Bruce McDonald uses to convey this tragic story. The fragmented visuals and helter skelter editing McDonald employs really adds tremendously to what might have otherwise been an R-rate after-school special type of story. The powerful, sountrack by Broken Social Scene matches the visuals nicely. The film works best if you stop resisting and let it wash over your senses. Moments of near calm are granted in Tracey's discussions with Dr. Heker, a female psychologist cast and played brilliantly by the very male Julian Richings (MY LIFE WITHOUT ME; THE RED VIOLIN).
The film has some minor flaws, mainly in the screenplay, but Page's outstanding lead performance and McDonald's creative and assured directorial hand managed to catapult THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS into my top film of the Festival. I'm hoping that a successful roll-out of JUNO will grant THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS a U.S. distribution deal. I would also love to co-present this film at the Independent Film Festival of Boston next April if it hasn't yet been released. 5 cats
"THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS screened at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival."
|Bruce says: "Tracey Berkowitz (Ellen Page) is a
fifteen year old girl who has been grounded by her parents. In her family
'everything’s a fucking crisis' and, in rebellion, Tracey leaves the
house taking her younger, somewhat disabled (he thinks he’s a dog)
brother Sunny (Zie Souwand) to a forest preserve. While there she drifts
off with her boyfriend Billy Zero (Slim Twig) thinking Sonny is fine on
his own. When she realizes that may not be the case, it is too late. Sonny
has disappeared. Make no mistake, this incident is not the beginning of
Tracey’s problems – it is merely the straw that breaks the camel’s
back. Tracey is an impudent, difficult child. Her self-involved parents
are caught in a loveless marriage. It is difficult to imagine they are staying
together for the children since they are totally lacking in empathy. Her
passive-aggressive mother drinks; her cocksure father pictures himself as
an exemplary disciplinarian. Her parents send her to a psychiatrist (played
in drag hysterically by Julian Richings). “Are you on drugs?”
Dr. Heker asks taking cues from Tracey’s parents rather than figuring
things out on her own.
"THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS tracks Tracey’s wanderings in search of her brother for several days after he disappears in the forest preserve. A fifteen year old runaway girl with no money must rely on the kindness of strangers. We see her with her an assortment of unsavory characters she meets along the way. Her life lessons - some amusing, others quite harrowing - pile up with astounding speed. By the end of her journey she is in the back of a bus, naked and wrapped in a shower curtain.
"To achieve his goal of sharing what goes on in Tracey’s mind as the narrative unfolds, McDonald presents multiple images on the screen simultaneously. For those who have seen Mike Figgis’ TIMECODE that thought might produce a grimace. Where Figgis split the screen into four equal segments, McDonald uses the screen as a canvas for Tracey’s thoughts and experiences. Most of the time there are from two to twenty (or so) images (boxes) on the screen at one time – overlapping, scattered, parallel, floating or random – and rarely is the pattern duplicated. Sometimes the action is the same in each of the boxes; frequently the boxes contain the same scene filmed from different angles; some have the same scene at a distance while concurrently, close-ups are present in other boxes; at other times what is going on may be different from one compartment to another. Occasionally the entire screen is used but that is an exception to McDonald’s rule. Rarely has there ever been a case where a film’s style so cleverly meshed with its subject. Inspired by comic books, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR and Mondrian paintings, Bruce McDonald has gone out on a limb to match his cinematic style to the content of the story and the result, in this viewer’s opinion, is an astounding success.
"McDonald acknowledges that this film could not have been made without Ellen Page. Her performance is extraordinary as she elicits sympathy from the viewer while remaining decidedly unsympathetic throughout most of the film. The film was shot in two months but the editing took at least seven months. Hopefully this film will find distribution as it should be seen at least once on a big screen. 5 cats"
Barbara says: "I am a fan of Ellen Page and she doesn’t disappoint in this film. However, I felt like I was watching the Mr. Hyde to JUNO’s Dr. Jekyll. I got the concept of all the jumbled frames representing Tracey’s thoughts but after a while I just got a headache. That being said, I do think it is a film that should be seen just because it is different and daring. 3 cats"
Thom responds: "I gave this film 3 1/2 cats for all the same reasons you gave your rating. It would have helped if there had been someone to root for in the movie."
Michael says (in response to Thom): I loved THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS, but can definitely see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. I found the fragmented editing and overblown soundscape to really convey the feeling of being in a troubled teenager’s head.
"I do have to say that despite Thom’s comment about there
not being anyone to root for in the movie to be surprising. How could
you not feel for poor Tracey. That was one messed up young lady who needed
help big time, and her life just spiraled out of control."
|Diane says: "I *really* disliked TRACEY FRAGMENTS, except for about 10 minutes
when I found myself actually engaged with the character (scene in Billy Zero's car). The split screen was appropriate but not inventive enough to carry the tedious and thin screenplay. Let's call it a blend of TARNATION, ERASERHEAD, and TIMECODE, starring Juno.
"Can't wait until Ellen Page turns sixty to see her playing something other than an adolescent girl with lip. HARD CANDY was such a great turn, but now I am so tired of that voice, those mannerisms.... 1 cat."