NEIL KROETSCH’S FIRST FEATURE film Bar Code hits hard on the note of regret, but the Montreal actor and stage director says cashing in his life’s savings for the venture is not one of them. While theatre is an ephemeral thing, film, even a small one, can have a life. Kroetsch’s directing debut will begin that life on Sunday at 9:45 p.m., when Bar Code premiers at the NFB cinema as part of the 27th annual Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois. Filmed mainly at Les pas sage, a small Plateau Mont-Royal jazz bar, the cast (which includes Kroetsch) is rich in idiosyncratic characters:
An Algerian immigrant whose married life has disintegrated into chaos and pain, a woman who has recently been rendered breastless, a farmer who has lost his wife to the city and his, a soldier who has lost her will to live, a dead child, a woman long cast in the role of a misplaced person traumatized by bombing and death, a musician who did not hit the right notes in a love affair, a salesman who can’t sell to save his own ass, an enigmatic Born-Again ex-con who once – as a foolish youth – eagerly sold his soul for $47 dollars.
The setting of the film creates a tableau we all are familiar with – a bar we frequent and see as somehow our own. There is a code, and by extension, a code to a larger tableau – a country, a nation, a way of life that supports rather than destroys. Yet the scenes which preoccupy Bar Code serve as a reminder of how much of human life can be focused on the destruction of sanity and the will of the best of humanity.
It requires the forgiveness of a brother to overlook the sins of a brother; it takes a manly stepping over of pride to reach love; it takes an acceptance of bewildered love to forgive mistakes when one is suffering; and it takes a man who has seen and understood depression firsthand to offer solace to a man who sees himself as falling, faltering. Bar Code achieves transcending moments. There are many strong monologues, not surprisingly, as Kroetsch is an experienced theatre and film actor, as well as a writer and director.
As a film about Montreal, Bar Code captures the diversity, the chaotic environment, the linguistic sophistication and the range of individuals from around the world that find their way here. It’s not high art, nor does it pretend to be. Despite a hard hammering on the regret factor, the film is stoked with hope and humility. Ultimately about human resilience and the desire to be loved, despite our own innate foolishness, Bar Code possesses its own unique Montrealer chutzpah.
Bar Code will be shown at the NFB Cinema on Sunday, Feb 22, 9:45 p.m.. 1564 St. Denis St.