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Oh, Canada

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Oh Canada
Photograph: Cannes Film Festival

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Richard Gere stars in Paul Schrader’s reflection on draft dodging, filmmaking and mortality

American filmmaker Paul Schrader, whose long career stretches from writing Taxi Driver to more recent late-career writing-directing successes such as First Reformed, arrives in minor-key reflective mode for this film-within-a-film tale. It’s adapted from Russell Banks’s novel ‘Foregone’ – Schrader’s second Banks adaptation after 1989’s Affliction – one which riffs on the life and death of a fictional documentary filmmaker, Leonard Fife (Richard Gere, with Jacob Elordi sometimes playing him as his younger self).

The focus of Oh, Canada is tight: Fife is dying and two of his former students, now middle-aged themselves, have created a mini studio in his home to film his recollections on a life that has seen creative and professional success but also the abandonment of several people and places along the way. It’s time to spill the beans for an expectant public before the grim reaper arrives, even though Fife’s current wife (Uma Thurman) would rather he didn’t do this at all.

Between grimaces, growls, tiredness breaks and catheter changes, Fife attempts to put a spin on his past, eliciting flashbacks, mostly to his time as a young man in the 1960s, when he claims he moved north to Canada to dodge the Vietnam draft. What becomes clear, as stressed by the double casting of Gere and Elordi as the young Fife, is that finding consensus on anything is going to be hard to achieve.

With its thoughts on films and filmmaking, and especially the possibilities of ever really capturing truth on film, it’s all a bit inside-baseball, which limits its appeal. It’s not as if cinema questioning itself is an especially fresh perspective, or that Schrader has anything especially original to say about that either. 

A fair few things about Oh, Canada are lacking. Its bitty flashback approach to Fife’s earlier life feels shallow, and the dynamics around the recording of his memories too often feel bogus, with Thurman’s character’s complaints feeling especially repetitive and one-note. But the sting of mortality is felt just strongly enough, and Schrader offers an unsentimental, clear-eyed view of the near-impossibility of finding a neat closure on life’s mistakes and failures.

Oh, Canada premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Dave Calhoun
Written by
Dave Calhoun

Cast and crew

  • Director:Paul Schrader
  • Screenwriter:Paul Schrader
  • Cast:
    • Richard Gere
    • Michael Imperioli
    • Jacob Elordi
    • Uma Thurman
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