If Mon oncle Antoine is often cited as the best Francophone Canadian film, then Donald Shebib’s classic Goin’ Down the Road can claim similar status as the nation’s top English-language title. Shebib made two outstanding features (the present film and its successor, Between Friends) before an unsuccessful attempt at conquering Hollywood and a retreat into the relative obscurity of TV work. Still, this inspired debut remains one of the defining works of Canadian cinema. Shebib’s background in documentaries is very evident in his fresh and perceptive retelling of the old story about two nave country boys who come to the big city expecting to realise their dreams but instead find themselves caught in a downward spiral leading to frustration and disillusionment.
At the time of its initial release, Goin’ Down the Road was predictably acclaimed for its cinema-verite qualities, but in retrospect that seems like so much damning with faint praise. As in his other films, Shebib’s main theme here is the discrepancy between dream and reality, and the depth of feeling with which he imbues his characters goes way beyond any purely documentary interest. For Shebib, his characters’ dreams are just as important and are treated with equal respect as the dispiriting realities which frustrate those dreams. The point may often seem in danger of being lost amidst the film’s grainy, rough-and-ready texture, but it is very much alive and present in both the resonant use of music (mostly country and folk, but also an inspired use of Erik Satie) and in the magnificent performances of Doug McGrath and Paul Bradley. A highlight of the Canadian season, Goin’ Down the Road is a very special film and this rare opportunity to see a recently restored print is not to be missed. 1970. Colour. 87 mins.