CRITIPEG: Gas Can

Plays Nov. 24 at Dramatic Arts Theatre as part of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival

Mattias Graham’s Gas Can is a seemingly simple short film. In 1977 Saskatchewan, a Cree family is making the move from the country to Prince Albert. On the drive there, they run out of gas. What follows is a work filled with layers of nuance and tonal complexity, delivered with a subtlety only attainable by a skilled directorial hand.

Graham manages to achieve an authentic period setting with very little. Some old cars and tactful wardrobe choices root Gas Can in a specific time and place. But what really helps is how truthfully the film captures the Saskatchewan plains, which are their own kind of mysterious landscape that somehow remain trapped in the past while simultaneously existing across time.

That hazy temporal ambiguity infects the film’s tone. The events always feel true, but they’re at once the kind of truth one finds in a detailed diary entry, and the kind of truth of a half-recalled childhood memory from an endless road trip spent napping in the backseat.

Key to establishing that narrative doubt are the performances of the film’s leads. Simon Moccasin as Anthem, the moving family’s dad, and Lyndon Bray as the farmer whom he asks for gas, convey an unspoken history. Their pre-existing relationship is presented in concrete terms (Anthem has done work for Bray in the past), but the emotional dynamics fuelling the film are never verbalized.

They are, in some sense, friends. But that tense relationship, infused with paternalism and condescension, gives Gas Can the nervous energy that defines it.

Published in Volume 72, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 23, 2017)

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