Review: The Elephant Song


Atlantic Film Festival 2014 | Opening Night Gala Film

The Atlantic Film Festival 2014 opened last night with The Elephant Song, a film adapted from a play by the same name. The writer of both is Nicolas Billon, whose name may be remembered from his play, Iceland, which was presented here in Halifax by Magnetic North earlier this summer.

I have neither seen nor read the play The Elephant Song, but it is evident that Billon’s knack for strong monologues edged its way onto the silver screen. Other vestigial elements from the stage persist; such as the limited set change and reliance on dialogue.

Is this a successful translation?

From the sparse three-person cast of the play The Elephant Song, the film presents a much larger cast, including those who would have only been spoken of in the play version.

As Billon demonstrated in Iceland, his craft is in characters. Billon flexes his words and invites you to sit awhile with each character and trust them. When this small cast grows, each with their own downfalls and motives, Billon’s style stretches thin as he extends understanding to each and every with such great feeling. To this end, Billon’s style fails to do them justice. Olivia becomes a portraiture of a lonely left at home wife/girlfriend seen still only through Dr. Green’s eyes.  The various bedroom eyed nurses show promise, but, in the end, are like pockets which I expected to be deeper. There were so many directions to go and so many false starts were taken.

What does hold is the strong dialogue between Dr. Green (Bruce Greenwood) and Michael (Xavier Dolan). In any other situation, one would be the foil and the other the driving force. Billon removes that possibility and provides them both with their own trajectories.

Catherine Keener’s performance was outstanding in the simplicity. Keener portrayed Susan Peterson, a broken mother mourning a dead child. Her life is day to day and about carrying on. Keener does Peterson justice, and more.

Xavier Dolan’s portrayal of Michael Aleen seemed at times more a display of unguarded assholery than mentally unstable. Additionally, Dolan seemed to know exactly what he wanted, but was unable to deliver. His exaggerated style was akin to directors showing actors how to act.

The cinematography of the film was careful.

Where theatre is restricted to the space given, suggestions, and imagination, film is given the entire world in which to shoot and tell the story.  The Elephant Song remains inside the office, stuck in it’s former reincarnation. It lacks what made Twelve Angry Men so commendable, and consequently, makes you want to walk out into the snow at some point and leave Michael and Dr. Green to this game.

The ending does not disappoint. As aforementioned, Billon’s preoccupation is his characters, and the simple and clear ending pulls the blinds open and clarifies the point. This is a story about these people. This is not a psychological thriller as it’s starting to be built up as, but fundamentally about Dr. Green, Michale Aleen, and Susan Peterson.



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