October 1, 2022

‘The Maiden’ transforms the landscape of suburban Alberta into surrealism

In the opening sequence of Graham Foy’s seductive new film ‘The Maiden’, two teenagers skateboard through a depopulated suburban Alberta landscape, their eyes fixed on a distant point beyond the edge of the frame. Their serene speed is matched by the camera, which tracks their movements and engraves their momentum in a beautiful celluloid blur.

With the grainy 16mm texture of the footage, we could be looking at a forgotten skatepunk documentary from the early 90s – a timeless subcultural artifact – but as “The Maiden” continues, it gradually replaces naturalism. by something more dreamlike surreal. Making his directorial debut after a string of award-winning shorts and music videos as Fantavious Fritz, Foy shows real confidence in defying audience expectations. “The Maiden” is not only beautiful, but transporting: it’s the kind of film that takes the viewer to unexpected places, always at their own pace.

“I was really hoping to seamlessly blend realism with moments that soar very gently and float above the needs of the story,” Foy said of the Venice Film Festival, where “The Maiden” was the only Canadian film present.

Its screenings next week at the Toronto International Film Festival will hopefully serve as a launching pad for a potentially major directorial voice – one that manages to articulate and amplify despite a relative lack of resources.

“The Maiden is definitely a micro-budget film,” said Foy, who secured funding through Telefilm’s Talent to Watch initiative. “There were times when we would have liked to have had more resources, but for me, I think it was a great challenge and a valuable experience that informed the philosophy of the project.”

With that in mind, ‘The Maiden’ wears its indie film influences on its sleeve: an obvious point of reference for Foy’s lyrical and poetic visual style is Gus Van Sant’s early work, with his parade of one-person teenagers. bruised beauty. (Another title could be “My Own Private Calgary”).

Foy, who said he admires Van Sant’s ‘Zen attitude and lazy sense of curiosity’, readily cites the director’s famous ‘death trilogy’ ‘Gerry’, ‘Elephant’ and ‘Last Days’ as an influence for “The Maiden”. In these mid-2000s films, Van Sant was preoccupied with feelings of passing away and mourning, and insofar as “The Maiden” has a plot, it concerns the efforts of one of the skaters, Colton (Marcel Jiménez ), to cope with the sudden and tragic absence of his running mate and best friend. The slick left-to-right trajectory of the opening scenes gives way to a more aimless wandering structure, as if the film, like its protagonist, doesn’t know where to go next.

Eventually, we meet a third major character, Whitney (Hayley Ness), another high school student who focuses empathetically but enigmatically as Colton struggles in the background. What binds the two children is a feeling of melancholy deep enough to drown in it; from there, the film drifts beautifully through states of dread and hope.

“I didn’t really intend to make a film about grief,” Foy said. “It’s something that naturally made its way into the script, partly because of things that were going on in my life at the time and also things that I had been thinking about since I was young.”

If there’s an autobiographical element to “The Maiden,” it’s rooted in the film’s strange sense of place: it was filmed for two months in and around Calgary’s Bowmont Ravine, where Foy lived as a child.

“My parents’ house was in the suburbs, on the edge of town, so we were surrounded by highways and construction sites. Unlike the suburbs, the ravine felt, and still feels, like a wild and magical place. The children in the film are between everything: childhood and adulthood; wild and built environment; and maybe also in a place between this world and the hereafter.

The intermediate quality mentioned by Foy is reflected in the title of the film, which refers to an ubiquitous graffiti tag but also has fairy tale connotations: the question of who or what the young girl represents in the film world is generously and provocatively left open throughout the film. .

“It’s a title that feels like it can shapeshift,” Foy said. “It’s attached to the three main characters and integrated into the place itself, until someone painted it…I was walking past (the train bridge) on my way to school and noticed that the tags (graffiti) changed over the years. There seemed to be an endless stream of deadpan lines like “I love weed” that would continually be mixed with more elaborate graffiti, declarations of love and memorials of fortune for deceased friends.

“The bridge and those messages were really where the ideas coalesced,” he added. “Specific things I remember going through, things friends have gone through, and imaginative bridge graffiti speculations all converged on this spot, along with the train itself, which really looked like this old industrial dinosaur who could really shake the Earth. There was a danger for the bridge and the train; when I grew up, there wasn’t even a fence around the tracks.

Foy mentions American photographer William Eggleston as another major influence, particularly the way his images imbued places and people with a haunting and ambiguous quality.

“The balance the film tries to strike as a whole is that life is a mysterious journey and, depending on where we are and how we look at the world around us, mundane things can seem miraculous or, just as easily, to be nothing. Highlighting the possibility of mystery and magic in everyday life is what fills me with meaning and purpose as an artist.

Adam Nayman is a Toronto-based critic, speaker and author. Follow him on Twitter: @brofromanother

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