Bernard Émond's otherwise cheerful introduction to his new film at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival included soundly attacking an “excess of images,” inciting the first round of booing I heard in response to TIFF's pre-screening L'Oreal ad—inoffensively brief after the umpteenth time any critic inevitably sees it, but whose fashions, models and locations combined surely cost more than some TIFF-selected features.
While All That You Possess grapples with materialism, its careful generosity belies Émond's ferocious sentiments. A standout amongst the fest's world premieres, All That You Possess possesses the numerous pros and sparse cons we've come to expect from Émond's films over the past decade: exacting control over actors, modestly expressive use of space, and intelligent, if slightly schematic story construction. Because of Émond’s affectless performances and minimalistic mise en scène, Bresson comparisons abound; but next to, say, Darezhan Omirbaev’s Student, which adheres so closely to Bressonian rigors as to recreate entire scenes from Au hasard Balthazar and Pickpocket, Émond’s influence appears loosely defined.
The quick, stoic line readings we associate with that master, in this case, are inextricable from protagonist Pierre Leduc (Patrick Drolet), a depressive intellectual whose bleakness is so thorough that suicidal ideation, an integral feature of his character, could have easily remained implicit: an abandoned academic career, an obsession with obscure, dour poetry, and a dying father he despises and passively torments. Intently refusing a massive inheritance he believes to be corruptly obtained, Pierre buries himself in the Quebecois translation of Edward Stachura, a Polish poet known for suffering at the hands of his own successful dad. And as if one parallel to Pierre’s father issues weren’t enough, Émond introduces Pierre’s estranged daughter Adèle (Willia Ferland-Tanguay), initially warm but increasingly conflicted towards Pierre.
Restraint, aside from suiting Pierre, flatters Émond. Sensitive to Pierre’s nemeses as individuals even as he disdains the ideas they represent, Émond transforms Pierre’s dealings with his father, in which the latter appeals to Pierre by claiming to minimize forest damage in the construction of a resort. A lesser filmmaker might have pegged this as disingenuous villainy, but as Émond slowly tracks alongside the two, their gorgeous estate in view, his father merely tries to offer any goodwill at his disposal, and rigid Pierre is undoubtedly crueler. This cruelty, seen elsewhere in milder forms, comes into full, albeit quiet view when Pierre pulls the plug on his stroke-addled father, sans compunction. If Émond admires Pierre’s refusal of the money in theory, he expertly renders his ascetic notions dubious. Rare exceptions to the hushed majority of All That You Possess prove the rule: a flashback to a young Pierre loudly coercing a girlfriend into an abortion has an awkwardly theatrical rhythm; Émond generally avoids these aberrations.
Though not immune to stylistic redundancy—the film’s score, by longtime Émond colleague Robert M. Lepage (not to be confused with the Quebecois auteur) is lovely but all-too-prominent—All That You Possess achieves grace by ensuring that Pierre remain far from an Émond surrogate, despite obvious overlap with its auteur’s anti-materialism. This is not to discount Pierre’s share of lucid moments, including a passing admission that his father’s millions came from “helping some, ruining others.” But Émond gradually transforms his firm contempt for possessions into a hefty moral burden, by extending this trait to his behavior as a father. Pressed to tell Adèle why he left her mother, his honesty is automatic: a child would have gotten in the way. But for Pierre, certitude itself comes to denote a lack of moral clarity, and carving out a pure life has ensured a lonely one. Even in atoning, Pierre knows only austerity, reducing a halting, emotional apology to a simple “Forgive me.”