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The Salesman

Dir/scr: Sebastien Pilote. Canada. 2011. 107mins

The Salesman (Le Vendeur) is a delightfully observed and impressively assured debut film from Sebastien Pilote, featuring a wonderfully nuanced performance by veteran actor Gilbert Sicotte as a 67 year-old car salesman in a snow-covered depressed town in Northern Quebec who prides himself on his selling abilities, despite the fact that the economy is slowly destroying this working-class town. The film is perhaps just too low-key and subtle to attract anyone but art house distributors, but it has a sense of pace and style that could appeal. Festivals will be its main destination.

The Salesman is a beautifully mannered film, with Pilote structuring his scenes elegantly and drawing a series of unshowy but memorable performances from his cast.

It is an appropriately un-demonstrative film, with writer/director Pilote preferring to let his camera observe the goings on in the town and in the car salesroom where the silver-haired and silver-tongued salesman plies his trade. Marcel Levesque  is regularly the ‘salesman of the month’ at the dealership, telling unconvinced would-be customers that it is not too expensive to  buy a new car if “you crunch the numbers right”, even though they know they don’t need a new vehicle.

Apart from selling, the two loves of his life are his hairdresser daughter Maryse and young grandson Antoine, doting on them at any opportunity. As the local pulp and paper plant prepares to close down, resulting in more redundancies in the town, Marcel still polishes his sales technique even analysing audiotapes of his previous dealings with potential customers just to see where he can improve.

But while the film is slow-moving and smartly observed, we know there is drama waiting in the wings. The opening scene of a car wreck being cleared up is the pointer to later events – though it takes till almost an hour and a quarter into the film for the dreadful event to occur.

Without revealing the dramatic incident, needless to say it devastates Marcel and reduces him to tears. Standing beside his table full of best salesman awards and trophies his body wracked with emotion, it is a powerful scene – but the film never takes the turn you expect it to. Things move on and Marcel adjusts to his grief and still picks up the monthly best salesman award.

Even when another dramatic incident impacts on his sales drive – this time involving a suicidal customer – he still manages to keep calm and move on…he is a friend when selling a car, but not when the tragedy of real life comes along. The film ends with spring finally arriving – coinciding with the arrival of a new batch of cars at the showroom. Marcel is there and ready, still honing his sales pitch.

It is a beautifully mannered film, with Pilote structuring his scenes elegantly and drawing a series of unshowy but memorable performances from his cast. Despite two moments of drama not a lot happens in this snowy and gloomy little town, but Sebastien Pilote’s impressive performance carries such resonance that The Salesman is a potent film.

Production company: Corporation Acpav Inc., Telefilm Canada, SODEC

International sales: Seville Pictures, www.sevillepictures.com

Producers: Bernadette Payeur, Marc Daigle

Cinematography: Michel La Veaux

Editor: Michel Arcand

Music: Philippe Brault, Pierre Lapointe

Main cast: Gilbert Sicotte, Nathalie Cavessali, Jeremy Tessier, Jean-Francois Boudreau, Pierre Leblanc

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