British actors Imogen Poots and Callum Turner star in this US-set debut from Vladimir De Fontenay

Mobile Homes

Dir/scr Vladimir De Fontenay. France/Canada. 2017. 105mins.

The journey to a better life is derailed by a succession of wrong turns and bad choices in Mobile Homes, a plaintive, downbeat tale in which a house never quite becomes a home. The feature debut of Vladimir De Fontenay is an accomplished piece with a committed central performance from Imogen Poots, but the emotional impact is lessened by an air of predictability and the sense that every bit of fresh hope is destined to end in disappointment.

Less convincing is why such a seemingly smart woman would be drawn back to a boyfriend who only spells trouble

Poots’ rootless drifter Ali is quickly established as a woman who will do anything for her eight year-old son Bone apart from the right thing. She constantly flaunts the line between independence and irresponsibility as the boy is left to his own devices or allowed to wander off alone. “He knows how to get home,” she tells one concerned social worker. 

Struggling to stay afloat, Ali and boyfriend Evan (Callum Turner) drift from cheap motels to random nights in abandoned homes (the film was shot around the Niagara Falls area). Meals are consumed at diners where they run away and never pay the bill. Income is earned by supplying birds for illegal, underground cockfighting matches which De Fontenay captures discreetly. The dream is to make enough money to secure a place of their own and build a future together.

It is often hard to feel sympathetic to Ali and a life on the margins that requires her to beg, steal and deny the reality of her circumstances. At one point, Evan even employs Bone (engaging newcomer Frank Oulton) to sell drugs. As long as there is hope in the air and sex in the offing, Ali seems content to stay by Evan’s side. 

The story is at its most involving when Ali and Bone are given the chance of a fresh start working for kindly mobile home contractor Robert (Callum Keith Rennie). Ali learns that she is capable and able to stand on her own two feet. They finally start to put down roots and create the brighter tomorrow that has been their goal. Inevitably, it doesn’t last.

Adapted from De Fontenay’s award-winning 2013 short, Mobile Homes has an aesthetic reminiscent of Andrea Arnold’s films. Rooted in the daily realities of people who have no part in the American Dream, De Fontenay uses camerawork that floats and looms to create an intimacy with the characters. He also finds time for moments of dreamy abstraction as we watch snow flakes billowing through the night sky, a mobile home that seems to float through the changing landscape at the setting of the sun and hair blown in all directions by a bathroom drier.

The film is always interesting on a visual level as we travel from the murky interiors of shadowy bars to the mud and snow of the American heartland.

We know that Ali is constantly seeking stability in an uncertain world and we understand what homes (both mobile and stationary) represent, but less convincing is why such a seemingly smart woman would be drawn back to a boyfriend who only spells trouble. There is nothing about Callum Turner’s infrequently volatile Evan that seems quite so irresistible. Ally that to an increasingly melodramatic plot that takes a turn for the sentimental towards the end and Mobile Homes isn’t as tough or real  as you might have wanted.

Production companies: Madeline Films, Incognito Films, Lithium Studios

International sales: Mongrel Media

Producers:Frédéric de Goldschmidt, Eric Dupont, Mike MacMillan

Executive producers: Charles de Rosen, Danielle Lessovitz

Cinematography: Benoit Soler

Production design: Zosia Mackenzie

Editor: Nicolas Chaudeurge,  Maxime Pozzi-Garcia, Adonis Trattos

Music: Matthew Otto

Main cast: Imogen Poots, Callum Turner, Callum Keith Rennie, Frank Oulton