LES BONS DEBARRAS -- At the K-B Janus.
Like one of those pictures on velvet of a solemn child with saucer eyes, the 13-year-old heroine of "Good Riddance" ("Les Bons Debarras") represents neither life nor art, but is neverless discomfortingly riveting.
Written by Rejean Ducharme and directed by Francis Mankiewicz (a cousin of National Public Radio's Frank Mankiewicz), this French-Canadian film concerns a backwoods household of which the child is the least irresponsible member. Referred to as "Boss" by her fond but scatterbrained mother and sulkily disobeyed by her retarded uncle, she tries to arrange their lives as she sees fit.
The catch is that she gets her ideas of family life from reading "Wuthering Heights" by flashlight while everyone else is asleep.
The result -- a bad seed with literary pretensions running to the Gothic -- is only one of the picture's misconceived characters locked into a repetitious cycle of tiffs, binges, reassurances, emotional telephone exchanges, deceptions, attacks of remorse and drunken drives. The characters keep declaring their extravagant love for one another, but since there isn't an ounce of sense among them -- the mother doesn't know the name of her daughter's school, or even enough about it to get the number from information -- none of this love rises above the sloppy affections of their dog.
And yet the film itself is handsome, the actors are strong, and there are some scenes and dialogue of tremendous quality.
An opening exchange between the child, played by the strangely beautiful Charlotte Laurier, and the mother, portrayed by Marie Tifo with more fiber than the character's actions indicate, goes:
"How old were you when you had me?"
"Who were you going with?"
"Nobody. I was looking after your grandmother."
Equally haunting is the mother's reply to her aging friend when he points out that when the brother and the daughter leave, she will be free: "Strange party -- not many guests."
When that much force is put into fixing an audience's attention, it should be for a better reason.