Review: The vivid, immersive ‘Montréal Girls’ captures the city’s cultural mosaic
The French Canadian city’s vibrant cultural mosaic is energetically captured in Patricia Chica’s “Montréal Girls,” a fittingly lyrical portrait of an aspiring poet who learns to find his own voice amidst the murmur of familial expectations.
Recently losing his beloved mother to cancer, Ramy (Hakim Brahimi), an intense young Middle Eastern man, has just arrived in Montreal, where he’s about to start medical school to honor her memory. Finding nearby accommodations at the home of his hospitable Uncle Hani (singer-actor Manuel Tadros), Ramy is taken under the wing of his gonzo punk-rocker cousin, Tamer (Jade Hassouné), who proceeds to introduce him to the city’s thriving underground subculture, which offers ample distractions from his studies.
Greta Lee and Teo Yoo play long-ago childhood sweethearts separated by time and distance but bound by memory in this exquisite debut feature from Celine Song.
Notable among them are the two free-spirited young women that lend the film its title — gifted photographer Desiree (Jasmina Parent) and, especially, the seductive Yaz (Sana Asad), who proceeds to cast a serious spell over the wide-eyed Ramy. While she has a reputation for pushing lovers away just as readily as she reels them in, their brief encounters pack some sensuous heat and it’s not difficult to see why Ramy becomes obsessed, despite Tamer’s repeated warnings that “Yaz is a lesson you don’t want to learn.”
Even with her prolonged disappearances, the beckoning mirage that is Yaz nevertheless serves as Ramy’s artistic muse as he increasingly immerses himself in the flourishing spoken word scene.
It ultimately leads him to a career reassessment and an inevitable showdown with his disapproving dad, Fahim (Chadi Alhelou), who views poetry as “nothing but a distraction for deviants and dreamers,” even though, as it turns out, Ramy’s mother also had quite the gift for words.
Armed with a ridiculously photogenic cast, El Salvador-born Chica, a certified Chi Energy acting coach who wrote the script with Kamal John Iskander, coaxes impassioned performances from all concerned, especially Asad’s illusive Yaz, who keeps running from convention to escape the expectations placed upon her by her patriarchal culture.
In his first lead role, Brahimi nails the brooding temperament of the frustrated artist, but when called upon to more actively convey the creative fire in his belly, his performance falls short of the required mark, with his Ramy occasionally coming across as a bit of a wet rag.
Meanwhile, among those contributing to the heavy Bohemian atmosphere of the city is local musical legend, one-man rockabilly band Bloodshot Bill.
Capturing Montréal in its seasonal sweet spot, cinematographer Alexandre Bussiere wields his camera like a paintbrush, taking advantage of the ample late summer/early autumn light and abundant greenery to intoxicating effect. “Montréal Girls” emerges as a vivid, immersive paean to artistic expression and youth’s unhindered possibilities.
Not to mention offering an inviting tip of the beret on behalf of the city’s tourism industry.
In English, Arabic and French with English subtitles
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: Starts June 2 at Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica
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