PLOT: An ex-pro soccer player, down and out in Montreal, reminisces about the romantic tragedy that led him there and ponders accepting a contract killing — a job that would take him from the ranks of petty criminal to the real thing.
Exciting things have happened in the life of Jean-Marc Thomas (Laurent Lucas). Unfortunately, few of them are on-screen in the movie On The Trail Of Igor Rizzi.
Jean-Marc was a star European soccer player, he travelled in luxury, had his choice of beautiful women (but only loved one), the media hung on his words.
All this is explained in narrative only and doesn’t seem especially real. But this is a first-time feature by a young Canadian director with the usual budget of a handful of toonies. (The movie’s priciest prop is Jean-Marc’s 1981 Olds Cutlass, which doubles as shelter for an eccentric homeless person).
For that reason, Noel Mitrani’s On The Trail Of Igor Rizzi is minimalist by necessity, if not by design. An often-silent (but narration heavy) 90-minute snapshot of a flashpoint in a man’s life, Igor Rizzi resembles nothing so much as a Jim Jarmusch movie, with its emotionless, dreamlike torpor and dry, absurdist moments. This stylistic self-confidence was enough to earn the director a Best Canadian First Feature nod at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
When we meet Jean-Marc and his partner-in-crime Michel, they are truly the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They’ve burgled a Montreal home where the adults are gone but scared children have been left alone. They make off with loot, and then discover that Jean-Marc’s wallet is missing — necessitating a return to the scene of the crime.
Alone in the barewalls desolation of a seedy Montreal neighbourhood, Jean-Marc begins telling his story in voiceover, how he was the toast of Europe, a great young soccer player, who fell in love with a girl from Montreal named Melanie (Isabelle Blais).
She’s a character we see as if in a dream in languid shots on a balcony. Young, narcissistic and thoughtless, Jean-Marc took his love for granted, leading to a tragic end.
And so we find him in Montreal, to where he fled to embrace something of Melanie’s spirit.
Of course, this is what Jean-Marc tells us. We have nothing except his word, those images of Melanie and a soccer ball he walks around with as circumstantial evidence of his glorious (and too-expensive-to-film) past.
Montreal’s ugliest industrial face — in the literal dead of winter — is on offer here, metaphor for Jean-Marc’s desolation. It is against this backdrop that Michel brokers an offer by a local low-life to kill a man named Igor Rizzi. Jean-Marc’s acceptance of the job is so half-hearted (and he is so obviously new to killing) that in real life no self-respecting mobster would hire him. But he’s hired nonetheless.
As he agonizes over the ramifications of graduating from petty thief to murderer, a random incident ups the ante (one of two glaring examples of deus ex machina in the movie, the other being the ending). A beat-up young woman shows up at his doorstep, and after letting her in, Jean-Marc chases the apparent assaulter. He comes up empty, and returning home, discovers she’s dead.
Opting not to phone the cops, he now has a body to dispose of before he’s even killed anybody. Soon there is another menacing character entering his life, and the decision to kill Igor Rizzi becomes even more complicated. (The title character barely registers in the events of this movie and is not even a speaking part.)
On The Trail Of Igor Rizzi has its charms and is well shot, but one can’t help but wonder what sort of movie it might have been if its protagonist’s past was as realized as the rest of it.
BOTTOM LINE: Exciting things happen in Jean-Marc’s life. But for budgetary reasons, none happen on-screen. What’s left is a flashpoint, presented — a la Jim Jarmusch — with dream-like torpor and absurdist moments. I like the sensibility more than the movie, though first-time director Mitrani shows a knack for framing a snowy picture.