With the heart-wrenching, beautifully articulated “The High Cost of Living,” Canadian writer-director Deborah Chow makes an exceptionally accomplished feature debut. She is as gifted a writer as she is a director, and no wonder Zach Braff and French Canadian star Isabelle Blais were attracted to her project. Set in a noirish, gleaming Montreal, this handsome, captivating, well-paced and stylish film is fully realized in every aspect.
A sophisticated young American, Braff’s Henry clearly has many options yet has allowed himself to drift into a fast life as a Montreal drug dealer. On a dark night he leaves a bar, having had more than one too many, drives the wrong way on a one-way street, hits a pregnant woman trying to flag down a cab -- and runs off, leaving her lying in the street. As Henry has yet to become a fully hardened criminal, his conscience starts to bother him.
Meanwhile, victim Nathalie (Blais) not only suffers a concussion but also learns that her unborn child has been killed. Her husband (Patrick Labbé) is numbed by the news but is so absorbed in his demanding job and so lacking in empathy that Nathalie feels her life falling apart. You guessed it: Henry, a man as charming as he is flawed, seeks Nathalie out but finds himself unable to come clean.
Chow and her actors are so gifted that this fragile situation escapes contrivance to become a poignant, romantic and deftly nuanced revelation of character and emotions. Of course, a moment of truth is ever-looming, yet Chow manages to conclude on a tantalizingly ambiguous note.
-- Kevin Thomas
“The High Cost of Living.” No MPAA rating. In English and French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, West Hollywood.