The Salesman

At a small-town car dealership in Quebec, sixty-seven-year-old Marcel Lévesque (Gilbert Sicotte) is top salesman for the month of December, as he has been in so many months over the preceding years. His daughter, Maryse (Nathalie Cavezzali), a hairdresser and single mother, thinks it's time he consider retirement. But Marcel relishes the work and his mastery of its small rituals and strategies, happily recording his sales pitches to “learn where he went wrong” and ordering 10,000 new business cards embossed with totemic gold foil. He's a widower, and other than his devotion to Maryse and her hockey-playing son, Antoine (Jeremy Tessier), Marcel is his job. Meanwhile, the local paper mill has been closed for eight months and counting, possibly for good, as the whole town holds its breath; not the best circumstances for selling cars. In his remarkably assured debut feature, writer/director Sébastien Pilote and cinematographer Michel La Veaux build the film's emotional and visual language from a quiet, natural poetry of quotidian detail-the resigned work of clearing fresh snow, the tight dimensions of Marcel's award-covered office, the ritual ka-thunk of daily sodas from the shop's vending machine. It's in this sense of circumscribed routine that we feel the maximum weight of the events that unfold beyond Marcel's control, testing not only his sense of identity but life's meaning at the deepest level. Sicotte is riveting in a performance that feels nothing like performance, and the film's persuasive realism gives it the relevance of a great documentary, as crafted by a master storyteller.

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