@ the Movies/ The High Cost of Living

First-time director Chow breeds despair--and occasional diversion from it--in a movie most will never even hear of, let alone see

BY EMIL TIEDEMANN

'The High Cost of Living'
I'D be the first to admit that it can be the most unlikely candidate who ends up your closest friend. But this casual testimony is an understatement--if there ever was one--when it comes to Deborah Chow's indie drama The High Cost of Living, set in the winter of Montreal.

Zach Braff (Scrubs) is Henry, an illegal dealer of legal narcotics sorting out his assorted life in Montreal-via-New York. Isabelle Blais (Borderline) is Nathalie, a nearly-due pregnant Francophone, half-ass complacent in her settled-for marriage to a man who spends more time absent than present.

Their opposing worlds collide when Nathalie, standing in the night streets awaiting a taxi, is run down by Henry's car, one stockpiled with orders for his shady clientele. He panics and flees, anonymously calls an ambulance, and then searches for a way to settle his guilt.

Meanwhile, Nathalie awakens in a hospital bed, moments away from realizing that she's lost her unborn child. Grief, despair, and all the usual suspects kick in, and Nathalie is at a loss, barely able to make sense of this senseless misdeed, or find her place in a world that's all but abandoned her.

That is, however, until Henry intentionally crosses her path, eager to comfort the misery he's unintentionally stricken. Nathalie, still carrying her deceased child and unaware of Henry's connection, takes solace in the stranger's condolences, allowing her to at least see past her stand-still life in peril.

Henry's motives to ease his conscious are soon superseded by genuine fondness for Nathalie, to mend the misery he's induced. Her appreciation soon elevates, as does Henry's guilt, until the whole truth unravels in a dirty mess.

Zach Braff & Isabelle Blais
Both Braff and Blais present impressive performances in this little film, which stirred audiences when it premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival. It risks being clouded in a tone of gloom and despair, but somehow mostly avoids it and rather fosters a cross of off-beat charm and fortuitous redemption.

It allows an authentic peek into our oppressive truths, into our bleak burdens that most Hollywood tales sidestep for the sake of engaging wider audiences. Chow graciously dares the dark side with her 93-minute feature film debut that abruptly reveals the shit that life can throw at us at any given moment, and how the most improbable companion can ease us out of it.

4 outta 5 stars

The High Cost of Living is currently playing at the Princess II Theatre (10337-82 Ave.) in Edmonton ($10). Call 780-433-0728 for showtimes or click here.

Below is the official trailer for Deborah Chow's 'The High Cost of Living.'

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