Mario, winner of three Genie Awards this year, is a visually haunting parable about childhood set on the lonely, windswept beaches of Quebec’s Magdalen Islands. The film traces the strange, symbiotic love between two brothers who relate entirely through shared fantasies. The younger of the two is Mario (Xavier Norman Petermann), an autistic 10-year-old. The only person who can penetrate Mario’s isolation and quicken his interest is 18-year-old Simon (Francis Reddy). He helps Mario to build fortresses out of bedsprings and stage mock wars for which the local children are sometimes recruited. Mario believes that those games are life itself, and the deadly seriousness of his play turns Mario into a psychological drama of considerable power.
The film’s forcefulness is doubly impressive because its main character never speaks a word. Petermann portrays a child of eerie, penetrating stillness. His brown eyes gaze out at the world with a habitual absence of emotion. Like a potential suicide victim, his silence is unnerving because it seems to judge and devalue the common, daily world that most humans believe in. Director Beaudin (J.A. Martin, photographe) has further emphasized Mario’s oddness by having him carry around a large, bedraggled stuffed coyote. The toy suggests the regressive, oddly primitive na-
ture of the boy: he often seems more a shy forest creature than a human being. But he is also a creature who can bite. When Simon’s attentions are diverted by a visiting girl (Nathalie Chalifour), Mario reacts with violence. From that point on, the film develops enormous tension as the viewer realizes that Mario is amoral—and capable of almost anything.
Reddy counterbalances Mario’s dangerous potency by giving Simon an attitude of easy strength and kindness. His protective love for his brother seems a shield against all tragedy—until Mario severely injures another boy in a fight. That event forces Mario’s parents to send him to a special home for autistic children on the mainland. The pathos of Mario’s entry into the government institution is heartrending, and it forms a natural ending for the film. But Beaudin insists on squeezing another 15 minutes from his story in order to illustrate the entirely unbelievable suggestion that Simon has been trapped and destroyed by the fantasies he shared with Mario.
Despite that flawed ending, Mario is one of the strongest offerings from Quebec in recent years. Pierre Mignot’s superb photography masterfully captures the Magdalen Islands, where the sweeping beaches complement Mario’s loneliness. And François Dompierre’s score, with its Arabic overtones, enhances his lush visions. Mario is a sensitive and powerful reminder that childhood fantasies can both redeem and betray.
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