Director: Jonathan Hayes
Writer: Jonathan Hayes
Actors: Mark Rendall, Nicholas Campbell, Sheila McCarthy, Michael Levinson, Victoria Sanchez
Runtime: 101 min
Films set in famous locations abound, and the backdrop of a work can highly influence the tone and feel of a piece. The vast majority of the time, films shot here in Canada are set elsewhere, two recent and successful exceptions being The F Word (2013) and Enemy (2013). Canadian director Jonathan Hayes’s new film Algonquin boasts a setting familiar to many: the Algonquin Park family cottage. This unassuming location lends itself well to a quiet and gentle film that slowly explores changing family dynamics. Just as the beauty of a simple rural setting is gradually revealed and celebrated within this film, so are the unconventional family members that make us who we are.
Although Jake Roulette (Mark Rendall) works as a schoolteacher, he is unhappy in his career and longs to accomplish something important. When his long absent father Leif (Nicholas Campbell) suddenly appears to enlist Jake’s help in the writing of a book about one of their favourite spots where many childhood memories were formulated, the two set off on an impromptu trip to Algonquin Park. A surprising and unexpected twist reveals a stepfamily with which Jake is forced to come to terms, and as he travels through the park, Jake and his new acquaintances Carmen (Victoria Sanchez) and eleven-year-old Iggy (Michael Levinson) learn more about each other, as well as about themselves. This journey may just be what Jake needs in order to allow his inner scars to heal and to finally find a sense of peace.
Algonquin benefits greatly from its much-desired “indie” look and sound, which is to be enjoyed as we approach summer blockbuster season. Some unique frames, pans, and perspectives add a level of visual interest to a rather simple tale, and an appropriate soundtrack properly highlights moments of tranquility as well as poignancy. Although the characters may seem cold at first, they gradually grow on an audience as they reveal inner warmth. Even the setting of Algonquin Park appears as a character, and is allotted much focus and screen time. It is this setting that allows Jake to find inner peace, and as the camera lingers over scenic shots, an audience cannot help but long to join him on a serene and relaxing camping trip, or even a journey of discovery such as his own.
Although the film is slow, the pace reflects the tranquil environment it wishes to highlight. There is a lot more weight to this piece than one may initially assume to be present, and there are moments of sharp realness and emotion to be found throughout that are effectively conveyed by a host of actors that Canadian viewers may recognize from the homegrown television and film circuit. Many complex familial relationship dynamics are explored, and as unexpected friendships form, an audience is allotted the opportunity to enjoy watching their quirky yet relatable interactions. There is also a note of subtle humour to be found amidst the surprising psychological depth, keeping the film pleasant and enjoyable even as it explores darker issues.
This film will resonate strongly with those who know this area, and who are therefore familiar with these people and their surroundings. The character Leif wanted to create a book celebrating the park, and that is just what this film accomplishes by demonstrating its capacities to calm and heal. The film also finds the beauty in the simplicity of the rural, offering a refreshing and recognizably Canadian aesthetic. Algonquin is an understated yet poignant film to be enjoyed on multiple levels, by Canadians as well as those less familiar with this setting we know and love.