GFF18 #4: Mobile Homes (France-Canada 2017)

The trio of Evan, Ali and Bone ‘camp out’ in an empty property for the night.

Sometimes you find that your selection criteria for festival screenings goes awry. Mobile Homes started late because though we were told the lead actors had arrived they didn’t actually appear in the cinema until 15 mins past the advertised screening start time. I’d chosen the film thinking it was a Canadian film with a French co-production partner. I was bemused that it should have two British leads, Imogen Poots and Callum Turner, but I assumed that the director was French-Canadian. Wrong.

Vladimir de Fontenay won a prize with his short film Mobile Homes in 2013. He is a French director who has lived and worked in the US and studied at New York University Film School which gave him considerable support to help make this extended/’opened out’ version of his short as his first feature. He originated the story based on his experience of areas in upstate New York. Why did he end up shooting over the border with a Canadian crew? The obvious answer is that a France-Canada co-production would be official and would be eligible for both Canadian and French support from public agencies, but there is no indication of this. Does any of this matter, you may well ask. I think so.

Ali (Imogen Poots) tries out one of the new homes being assembled in the factory.

The film’s title is both metaphorical and actual. Ali (Imogen Poots) and her son Bone (Frank Oulton) have teamed up with Evan (Callum Turner), a hustler dealing drugs and roosters for illegal fights. The trio move from one motel to the next or squat somewhere overnight. They have no ‘home’, either in terms of a permanent residence or as ‘a place to call their own’. When they become separated, Ali and Bone find themselves in a wooden house which is being transported on a low loader by Robert (Callum Keith Rennie) who runs a small ‘park’ of these wooden buildings. This is confusing for Brits as we tend to think of a ‘mobile home’ as a trailer, a caravan or a van with sleeping accommodation. These are bigger buildings without wheels of their own. They are assembled in a factory and then moved to a ‘park’. Evan, having lost Ali and Bone will come looking for them in the last section of the narrative.

Ali and Bone look out of the window of the house as it is carried on the low-loader

The film is fast-paced in the opening section with the camera whipping about as the trio try to make money from various deals. The cinematography is by Benoit Soler who also shot Ilo, Ilo (Singapore 2013), a very different kind of film that I liked a lot. When the ‘split’ takes place, the pace slows a little but I was dreading the return of Evan. Imogen Poots does very well with her role and Frank Boulton as Bone is excellent. This part might have been a social realist drama. I’ve seen Poots in several roles and she’s always been impressive. There is music in the film, but the most important song (the only one I recognised) was Etta James’ version of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ – an odd choice, especially as it’s a live version. You may have noticed that I’m being rather down on the Evan character who is described in some promotional material as ‘intoxicating’. I don’t think so. The actor Callum Turner has a list of credits in TV and mainly mainstream films, none of which I’ve seen, but he clearly has a fan following and star potential. He and Imogen Poots offered a rather ‘starry’ Q&A which went down very well with the festival audience. The fourth major character Robert is a potential balance for Evan and as played by the Alberta-raised actor Callum Keith Rennie he adds further weight to the central section of the narrative.

I suspect it is my (old) age (and interest in Canadian cinema) that made me less than sympathetic about the film overall. The lack of Canadian identity in the film (no recognisable Eastern Canada accents or distinctive locations) made it feel like it could be happening anywhere. The whole narrative didn’t seem to hold together – the third section includes a dramatic action sequence which in some ways matches the earlier scenes. What starts off as an odd crime melodrama transforms into a social drama/melodrama and then a road movie of sorts.  You’ll be able to make up your own minds later this year in the UK with a release via Thunderbird (a Canadian company I think).

4 comments

  1. John Hall

    I think it is a sad reflection on the modern economy when you can no longer make a living just dealing drugs and need a sideline in roosters. Callum Keith Rennie was impressive as a charming heavy in ‘Suspicious River’ also starring Canadian Molly Parker, who seems to have vanished a little of late. She should be a lot bigger than she currently appears to be.

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    • Roy Stafford

      You have a good memory – or have you seen Suspicious River recently? I haven’t seen it and had to look up the title. I agree about Molly Parker. She seems very active in TV as well as movies, but I haven’t seen her in anything for a while.

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      • John Hall

        I remembered possibly because I am an avid fan of Molly Parker, but it is also true to say I have ‘Suspicious River’ on dvd. A short run of Canadian films at the museum a few years ago also featured her in a film called ‘Madison Bridge’ (from memory). Wish I could find that one.

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  2. John Hall

    I got to see ‘Mobile Homes’ in the rather modest Hull Film Festival which closed yesterday with an interesting selection of films at their local Vue, including this one, ‘Donnie Darko’ and the final film of Harry Dean Stanton : ‘Lucky’. Mind you, I did not stay for the last two but did make the unhappy mistake of watching ‘Racer and the Jailbird’ the day before. ‘Mobile Homes’ was advertised here as the Yorkshire premiere and a very fine film it was despite only attracting about fourteen people in the middle of a hot July afternoon. I was led to believe the showing of ‘Donnie Darko’ was a near sellout.
    Any misgivings I had about ‘Mobile Homes’ perhaps lie in the way it abruptly veered from an exercise in social realism to the wildest car chase I have ever seen, and also the fairly abrupt disappearance of the Rennie character who was in hot pursuit at one stage. Just when it was settling into the fairly standard redemption storyline too.
    It was indeed good to see so much snow on the screen after two baking hot days in Hull.

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