Gaz Bar Blues

written and directed by Louis Belanger

starring Serge Theriault and Gilles Renaud

review by Stephen Notley

You wouldn't think you'd want to hang out all day at a quietly failing Quebec gas bar in 1989. There's not a lot of pop or zing or excitingness to the daily outs and ins of life at the Champlain gas stop, run as it is by wifeless 55-year-old M. Brochu and his three sons Rejean, Guy and Alain, propped up by the handful of guys who spend their time there sipping coffee since they've got nowhere else to go. High drama this is not, yet there are the details, the little moments here and there, the simple interactions between sons and father that slowly, slowly draw you in.

Gaz Bar Blues is one of those quiet character portrait films, thin on plot twists and surprises. M. Brochu, "The Boss", plugs away without complaint, routinely ripped off by his customers who lean on his good nature. His son Rejean takes more of an interest, confronting the occasional robber --"You wanna rob my dad, you gotta get by me first" -- and earning sighing rebukes from his dad for putting himself in danger. Rejean, meanwhile, is frustrated by Guy, who blows off shifts to play harmonica at blues bars and likes buying shitty cars that don't work. Eventually Rejean can't take it anymore and splits for freshly post-Wall Berlin, sending back letters and photographs of Wall-chipping Berliners, leaving 14-year-old Alain, not a bad kid though he's got the weird tic of continually catching and pitching imaginary baseballs, to pick up the slack.

This isn't the kind of movie where a lot "happens", but it's got a rhythm, a tired, day-to-day homeliness that holds your attention just long enough to pass it on to the next scene. We see it in mustached mechanic Gaston Savard, usually frowning, keeping an eye on things, not saying much but speaking the law when he does, shooing the losers away when the Champlain supervisor comes by to bug the Boss, catching a regular customer in the act of stealing from the safe and doling out some appropriate nonviolent that'll-teach-you punishment. We see it in the various losers who hang out at the Champlain, the 44-year-old newspaper-quoting virgin or the sloppy idiot who misquotes Elvis lyrics and picks pizza pieces off the ground to give to the blind guy. And we see it in the Boss as he shuffles through and around it all, hiding his encroaching Parkinson's disease, gently overseeing his tiny community of hangers-on, trying to do right by his sons who want out or don't care or are too young and imaginary-ball-pitching to fully trust.

Gaz Bar Blues isn't rousing; indeed if anything it's a slow soft decay. Just shy of two hours, it gets you looking at your watch and waiting to be released in the last few minutes. But at the same time there's a comfort, a familiarity that takes hold after a while, like an old couch or a hangout you've spent so many years at you don't even know why you go there anymore. If you're looking to go to the movies and just kinda… watch the day go by… you could do worse.

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