“Your brother’s plane arrives at 5 PM”
Writer/director Patrice Laliberté‘s short film Viaduc [Overpass] relies heavily on our suppositions as the viewer. And it does so to perfection. To us Mathieu (Téo Vachon Sincennes) has done nothing to earn the benefit of the doubt. Not only do we meet him sneaking out to illegally spray paint a bridge over the nearby interstate, he’s willfully difficult with his parents as a rule at home. He smiles when he escapes imprisonment and projects can’t-be-bother frustration when his mom (Sandrine Bisson) asks him to simply close cabinet doors once he’s done getting what he wants. Mathieu is the consummate seventeen-year old troublemaker defacing property and smoking weed—a lost cause. We’re not supposed to sympathize with him; we sympathize with those he lets down.
His avoiding Dad (Stéphane Jacques) is probably the result of the latest thing he’s done wrong and his mother asking for him to return home by 3:30pm so he can travel to the airport for his brother’s arrival virtually assures a fresh example of disappointment positioned on the horizon. This is the environment Laliberté introduces: a nice up-standing family with an unreliable black sheep always one step away from ruining his life and theirs in the process. And for what? To paint some lewd remark the city can laugh at on their morning commute? You almost wish Mathieu’s mother would have told him to stay with his skateboarding friends and just skip the airport altogether. She can’t be let down if there are no expectations.
Overpass is not that easy, though. Surfaces are deceiving—to a point. Mathieu is obviously a delinquent, but perhaps he isn’t so out of touch with the emotional gravity of the situation his family finds itself in the midst of enduring. Laliberté somehow pulls his strings so that we think the worst of his lead character, but we never see his fingerprints until the end. The journey is natural and authentic from the long take opening of Sincennes walking with plank and paint in hand down the street to the meaningless chatter about chicken fingers enjoyed by his stoner crew. The boy’s ambivalence and juvenile sense of resentment are so relatable to our own youthful experiences that we can’t tell they’re actually hiding grief.
What’s at once a neo-realist account of a punk kid wreaking havoc turns on a dime to a heart-breaking look at loss and how we all cope in our own personal ways. Whether it’s taking our minds off what’s coming by cleaning the house, silently working away in the yard so as to not breakdown when melancholic thoughts interrupt idleness, or utilizing a creative outlet to pay tribute to the fallen—nothing strips us down to naked emotion and thusly catalyze an attempt to camouflage like death. In this manner everything Laliberté supplies is smoke and mirrors and boy does a few seconds of Jacques in the rearview mirror reveal the stunningly poignant truth. Life is full of surprises from the unlikeliest of places.
Courtesy of TIFF