Vital Signs (Sophie Deraspe, 2009): Canada

Reviewed by Nicholas Berquist.  Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

There are two sides to every coin.  Where there is life there is also death.  One cannot give without receiving.  These are the prevalent themes of Sophie Deraspe’s Vital Signs, a dramatic tale of life and death that is certain to bring out the existentialist in all of us.

The story centers on Simone, a student at Harvard, played by the talented rookie Marie-Helene Bellavance.  Simone’s grandmother passes away and leaves everything she had to Simone.  Simone is confused about the nature of her grandmother’s passing.  She believes she could have been notified earlier about her grandmother’s condition and been there for her.  Simone’s curiosity leads her to volunteer at the palliative care ward where her grandmother passed.

Simone spends more and more time at the ward, giving everything she has to these old, near death patients.  She believes she is helping the patients by giving them their time.  She also feels more alive when she is around these people because she feels they need her.  Simone is a very caring and sentimental person when it comes to others, the difficulties she has lie within herself.

Deraspe makes quite the impression in only her second feature film.  Already she has a style I can confidently say is her own.  Due to the heavy subject matter this film can do some serious work on our emotions.  Deraspe helps alleviate this barrage by incorporating musical interludes.  During the narrative, the action will be broken up by musical performances.  The joy and happiness in these scenes are a stark contrast to the life-death theme of the film.  However, these scenes do feel very out of place regardless of whether or not they are enjoyable.  They felt flat and somewhat deflating.  Deraspe has a wonderful concept blooming here and with some practice can really take advantage of this melodious segue.

The actors in the film do deserve a lot of credit because there is so much raw emotion.  Bellavance does an exceptional job, for a rookie, in her portrayal of Simone.  This is a very internal character, which is challenging for any actor let alone someone who has never done it before.  The chemistry between the performers is so real we often get confused.  At one point I asked myself, is this a documentary.  The realism in the actors and the pacing of this film suggest something other than a narrative.  Without Deraspe’s cinematography we might be left guessing as to what type of film this really is.  Some may consider this a flaw, which it is, but I found it to be soothing rather than disturbing.

The wonderful thing about this heartwarming tale is that it reaches all of us, or perhaps those of us who are less insecure.  Every person has his or her strengths, which we are prone to boast about.  Often times we feel invincible, like we could solve the world’s problems with just a little commitment.  This feeling can sometimes cloud our judgment, making us believe we are the only ones capable.  This is wrong.  Accepting help is not a weakness; it is human.  Building relationships is what makes us human.  Helping and accepting help from those we love is what it truly means to be alive.  Without the help and love from others we might as well be dead.  This film helps us realize how important human relationships are.  For this, I thank Sophie Deraspe.

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