Cars and Curls: Why You Should Care About Denis Côté
The rest of the world loves him; now one of Canada’s hottest directors makes his way Stateside.
New Brunswick-born, Quebec-based director Denis Côté has become a force in Canadian independent cinema, garnering awards at international film festivals and being selected as the first subject of Toronto’s Bell Lightbox’s ambitious “New Auteurs” series. This weekend he hits San Francisco with his newest film Curling screening at San Francisco Film Society / New People Cinema. Here are five reasons that you should be watching out for Denis Côté (and you can start by watching his breakthrough film, Carcasses, on Fandor).
1. He lives and breathes DIY filmmaking.
Working with budgets ranging from $5,000 to $1 million, Côté always seems to get the movies made on his own terms. Rather than sitting around waiting for the right project to come into focus, when something interests him, he just goes out and shoots it. It’s a risky way of working, but it’s made him very prolific, with five features in the last six years and more on the way.
2. His movies take you places you don’t expect to go.
I don’t know that there’s ever been a film quite like Côté’s daring sophomore feature, Our Private Lives / Nos Vies Privees (2007). It begins with a sexy premise — two strangers who have been having an online relationship meet up in a cabin to consummate it in real life — only to slowly morph into a deeply disturbing film about separation and privacy. You can also find Côté’s knack for shape-shifting narratives in his superb Cannes selection Carcasses (2009): at first it appears to be a documentary about a junk collector before an unnatural intrusion occurs at the midway point (no sense in spoiling it – you just have to see it for yourself.) Carcasses is at once Côté’s strangest and most serene film — an oddball portrait that takes hard material observations into a breathtaking metaphysical dimension.
3. He’s part of a long tradition of film critics turned filmmakers.
Truffaut. Godard. Côté. OK, so one of those names doesn’t quite belong, but there’s no question that the years Côté spent as an uncompromising film critic in Montreal — where he was notorious for panning some big-money Quebecois releases, like Seraphin: Heart of Stone (2002) — has informed his practice. Côté’s familiarity (and boredom with) conventional filmmaking codes helped to push him in a more experimental, non-narrative direction: his debut feature, Les Etats Nordiques (2004) uses a spare plotline as a hanger for a documentary study of a small town.
4. His films connect to other great directors.
The out-of-nowhere rock song that closes Curling feels like a bit of an homage to the Argentinian director Lisandro Alonso, whose similarly oblique, hand-made films usually come stamped with a jarring musical outro. There’s also something more than a little bit Herzogian about Carcasses, with its unruly, metal-waste landscapes and half-bemused attitude towards its wilfully iconoclastic protagonist.
5. The rest of the world already loves him.
Côté received retrospectives last year in Vienna and Bangkok, not to mention a Best Director prize at the Locarno International Film Festival (the second time he’d won that award). He’s also one of three Canadian directors being showcased at this year’s New Directors/New Films series, along with Nicolás Pereda and Denis Villeneuve, who garnered a share of the spotlight with his Oscar-nominated Incendies. Speaking as a Canadian, I have nothing against Monsieur Villeneuve, but it’s clear who the best Denis is around these parts.To borrow a joke from Cinema Scope Magazine, my cinema only has room for one Denis — and you should make space, too.
Watch Carcasses on Fandor.
Originally published March 25, 2011.