saint monica (2002)


director: terrance odette

genevieve buechner, clare coulter, brigitte bako

Thereís an eerie sense of deja vu with Terrance Odetteís Saint Monica. More than just its Toronto setting feels familiar - thereís something about the plot that gives the impression of wandering down a familiar street. Unfortunately, and like too many films made in Toronto, the ultimate sensation is sketchy and unfinished, a glance across the city, and through the handful of poorly-fleshed out characters in Odetteís fable about faith and family.

I always feel uneasy when I see a child protagonist in a film - it usually portends a purposeful lack of depth in the surrounding characterizations, an unfortunate assumption that children canít divine complication or subtlety. Monica (Genevieve Buechner) is a supposedly devout little girl whose mother (played by Brigitte Bako) - a bitter single mother and recent immigrant to Toronto from Portugal - has just moved her and her deadbeat uncle (Maurizio Terrazzano) from Little Portugal in the west end to the bleaker streets of the cityís east end.

Monica is obsessed with angels and the Virgin Mary, but when sheís denied a place as an angel in the upcoming procession at her old church, she steals a pair of wings, which she proceeds to lose on the streetcar. By this point, the implausibility has piled up too far: Itís hard to believe that a devoutly religious little girl would so readily lie and steal, never mind deface a bible, as she does later in the film, or use religious statuettes as tools to poke holes in the screen window of her room.

Itís not merely that the child, despite her faith, somehow lacks a sense of reverence or right and wrong. Itís that it was simply, cynically necessary for her to steal the wings and lose them to get the story going, while the trappings of religion just feel like nifty set dressing, a public domain library of imagery for the filmmakers to use, without any sense of real meaning.

The wings end up with Mary (Clare Coulter), a homeless woman convinced that sheís the Virgin Mary. The homeless character - a ready-made symbol of purity and tragedy in far too many films - is a depressingly overused stock character, but Coulterís Mary is no better served by the script than anyone else.

Most Canadian films suffer from the double-bind of being overacted and under-written. Saint Monica manages to equalize the acting to the same depthless level as the threadbare script, and itís not merely Monica whose actions and motivations seem both obscure and predictable, steered along by a script that knows where it has to be without quite understanding - or being able to let us know - precisely why.