Thursday, July 28, 2022

Fantasia ’22: Punta Sinistra

The high-flying Miami Vice-style partying of the 1980s crashed back down to earth during the far-less-fun 1990s. That was especially true for French Canadian bush pilot and drug-runner Luc Langelier, who fatally wrecked while flying his regular Colombia-to-Montreal run. Neither his body or his cargo were ever recovered, but not for a lack of looking (at least for the drugs). A burned-out journalist (is there any other kind) starts investigating his cold case in Renaud Gauthier’s Punta Sinistra, which screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.

As a fellow French Canadian, Marcotte feels an affinity with the picaresque Langelier, or so he claims. Regardless, the boozy wash-out certainly fits the hazy, debauched atmosphere of Punta Sinistra. Supposedly, he is writing a book on Langelier, but nobody wants to talk to him, least of all the mysterious Claudine, who regularly swims the surf around Langelier’s crash site. Marcotte must also contend with bad tarot readings and frequent beatings from a gang of surfer-thugs. Fortunately, the shaggy journalist is used to waking up in pain.

Although it uses genre elements, Gauthier’s film has a trippy, experimental heart, very much akin to Ossange’s
9 Fingers. It is a druggy, sun-drenched mood piece and exploration of Marcotte’s psyche—but there isn’t much to the latter to delve into. There are some clever moments (especially when the soundtrack “pays homage” to Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice themes), but long, deliberately baffling scenes of tarot readings and incomprehensible telephone calls really start to drag, which is a real problem for a film barely longer than an hour.

Admittedly, Gauthier himself looks convincingly scruffy and degenerate playing Marcotte. However, Patricia Leger is the real standout, as Claudine. She is not a stereotypical femme fatale, but she definitely commands the screen. Yet, frustratingly, she has comparatively limited screen-time, leaving the absence of a compelling villain even more conspicuous.

Punta Sinistra
is the sort of film that sounds good on paper, but the viewing experience underwhelms. It flashes a lot of style, but it doesn’t amount to much. Not recommended (despite its musical appeals to nostalgia), Punta Sinistra had its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia.