Runtime: 18 minutes
Director/Writer: Annie St-Pierre
Actors: Lilou Roy-Lanouette, Steve Laplante
By Caelyn O’Reilly
“Like the Ones I Used to Know” (or “Les Grandes Claques”) is the latest short film from Quebecois director Annie St-Pierre. An emotionally hard-hitting tale of a distant father and daughter at Christmas. First off, I love the way the two titles each use their different connotations to hit on similar ideas and themes of wistful, wintery nostalgia. Just want to get that out there before starting.
The film immediately establishes a strong visual style, utilising the kind of extreme close-ups, handheld camerawork and shallow focus that often gets critics like me fawning about “intimacy” and “realism”. Which is absolutely what I am doing here. I am basic. Speaking of the cinematography, the camera seems to favour the eye level of the children, visually putting the story in their perspective. Also gotta shout out the editing, particularly the cut from the loud chatter and music inside the house to the father nervously sitting in his car outside in complete silence. None of these are groundbreaking techniques but there’s a reason they work and the creators use them deftly here.
After the kids’ literal pissing contest in the bathroom, they emerge into a sequence that reminds of the early scenes in “Home Alone”(1990), with the bustling, slightly dysfunctional family mingling amongst the decorations. The daughter, Julie, is played by Lilou Roy-Lanouette and she is brilliant in this role, excelling in her quiet reactions to the drama going on around her. She conveys more in a single bittersweet smile than a page of dialogue could achieve.
But while she is wonderful, the true star of the show is Steve Laplante as Julie’s father Denis. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so captivated by an actor’s face. I feel like I spent minutes just staring at the bags under his eyes that seem to carry with them years of pain and disappointment. Plus, he achieves the most heart-wrenching puppy-eyed expression I’ve seen outside of the realm of animation. I feel like this may come across as just judging his natural appearance, but it’s clear from seeing photos of the man that this is a performance choice, and an astonishingly impactful one at that. The intense divorced dad energy radiating off him is only accentuated by his costuming. A brown sweater vest paired with a button-up shirt in a slightly lighter brown and a winter jacket in a third delightful shade of sad brown.
The entire cast is brilliant, but this pair of impeccable performances makes the film’s heartwarming ending hit all the harder. And as anyone who’s seen a supermarket putting out their Christmas stock in September can tell you, the holiday spirit is usually pretty unwelcome this long before the yuletide. So you can understand how impressive this short has to be to get me in a Christmas mood while autumn leaves are still gently making their initial descents. “Like the Ones I Used to Know” is a perfect little slice of the holidays, tinged with sadness and strife but ultimately leaving you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.