The Noise Of Engines: Raindance 21 Review
Longing for home is a longstanding theme in art. It is the bedrock of the Western literary edifice—Odysseus’ exile from and subsequent journey back to Ithaca is the obvious example. In my case, however, memories and yearnings revolving around home are a bit less epic and a bit more ambiguous. I grew up in an objectively bland lower-middle class neighborhood. As a child, I was not aware of how crummy it was. That awareness came to me in my late teenage years. And therein lies the ambiguity that I feel towards home. Now in my adulthood, I realize how mediocre my hometown was; and yet, I feel nostalgia for it. Certain smells, sights, and sounds bring back a sweet remembrance of dismal things past. I couldn’t help but have these thoughts as I watched director Philippe Grégoire’s brilliant full-length debut, The Noise of Engines.
Alexandre (Robert Naylor) is an instructor at a Canadian college that trains customs officers. After he is discovered having sex with a student, he is summoned by the college’s director (Alexandrine Agostini). The director pathologizes Alexandre as a sexual deviant and dismisses him from the college. Alexandre returns to his hometown. His Quebecois hometown, as he describes it, is a typical North American town devoid of any urban planning. The town’s only “attraction” is its racetrack. Alexandre’s mum is extremely meddling. And as if he didn’t have enough eyes on him, Alexandre starts being followed and harassed by two policemen who accuse him of leaving pornographic drawings in the town’s church. Thanks to Grégoire’s script and direction, the entire cast’s performance produces a suffocating but darkly humorous Kafkaesque world. Alexandre is accused of something terribly deviant, but he does not know by whom exactly and does not know how they are surveilling him.
Then, out of nowhere, an Icelandic drag racer, Aðalbjörg (Tanja Björk Ómarsdóttir), comes into Alexandre’s life. Aðalbjörg inexplicably knows everything about Alexandre, tells him that she learned French from French New Wave films, and gives him a CD that directs or maybe predicts his actions—we are unsure. Alexandre takes Aðalbjörg on a tour of the town explaining the town’s genealogy. Once Aðalbjörg makes her appearance, the film takes on the feel of a travelogue of both the town and historical/personal memory. Alexandre and his new friend begin talking about how the noise of engines and the smell of burnt rubber remind them of home. It is unclear whether Aðalbjörg is a real person, or whether she is a character in Alexandre’s imagination; if she has seeped into his real life from his dream life, or whether she is his unconscious.
If everything described thus far sounds like a metaphysical/psychoanalytic jumble, don’t despair. You are in good hands with Grégoire as your director. This being Grégoire’s full-length directorial debut, one can only think that what is to come will be as or even more compelling. And, for those whom non-realist narratives are intimidating, it must be said as a selling point, The Noise of Engines is funny. The Noise of Engines, though very different, reminds me of another film that I reviewed for this site. It reminds me of my film of the year thus far—Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Both films share a mischievously dark humor.
Both offer commentary on the hometowns that drive us mad. But, even more curiously, both films converge on a common plot point; they hit upon a common zeitgeist. Both films involve characters persecuted for “sexual deviances” that go viral. In the case of The Noise of Engines, it is pornographic drawings. In the case of Bad Luck Banging, it is a viral sex video. This begs the question: Are both these films capturing an era in which sex is more permissive than ever; but paradoxically, more surveilling of deviance than ever? Regardless of whether there is a connection or not, seek out both films and watch them. And if you have the time, you could make it a double feature.
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