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Soft Shell Man

Andre Turpin, the innovative cinematographer on last year’s Quebec hit Maelstrom, delivers a striking tour de force with Soft Shell Man, his second outing as director and photographer. The central character, Alex (David La Haye), is a handsome but insecure photographer who suffers a near-death experience in the waters of the Indian Ocean before returning to Montreal, where he finds himself caught up in a tangle of relationships. He falls for Marie (Isabelle Blais), a strong-willed ‘cultural critic’, and then for Sara (Chantal Giroux), the deaf girlfriend of his best pal. Oscillating between hangdog mopiness and a lady-killer’s charm, La Haye brilliantly embodies Alex’s paralysing need to be liked. He is the ‘soft shell man’, a malleable male undone by his need to please everybody all the time. Turpin treats his protagonist’s condition with considerable humour and oodles of style. The mystery at the centre of the story, involving the sensational content of some photographs Alex took just before blacking out underwater, is neatly echoed by the character’s progression towards an emotional revelation that will, symbolically, take the crab out of his head. Turpin’s lively direction and ingenious script make this one of the most bracing Canadian films of recent years.
Canada, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 100 mins.

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