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Cheech (2006)

by on 2013/07/22

Cheech (2006)
“Learn how to smile again.”

* * * *

Prostitutes, swearing, hold-ups and chases, killings, and plenty of nudity. Cheech isn’t exactly the Quebec I imagined, all easy jokes set aside.

Perhaps even stranger, however, is how much English is bandied about. To paraphrase from the movie itself: you will have to visualize a different landscape. There’s more Weirdsville than Ville de Quebec here.

Ron is a neurotic pimp for low-rent Montreal call girls. His partner Maxime does his dirty work. Max is failing to jump-start a serious relationship with an employee, Stephanie. For some reason Stephanie is masquerading as a peer, Jennifer. The real Jennifer’s booked an appointment to meet with Olivier, a reluctant neat freak. His girlfriend, Sophie, is humorless, distant, and . . . well, you get the idea. It’s a tangled web.

There are several others, maybe none as important as the title’s elusive Cheech, who runs the Regency Escort Agency, the envy of the entire ensemble.

To say more is tempting, but might ruin a plot less byzantine than fun to unravel. Its twists and turns are interesting, its reveals both logical and organic. Overall, it’s a satisfying experience, though it sometimes risks its pace for deliberation.

As a production, it’s rife with novel touches, conceptual and visual. A character is shot in solitude to represent his isolation in a crowd. In a moment of stress, another is framed through a patchwork of mirrored tiles. A window is broken to match the winter frost outside. A scene begins by repeating the final words of the prior one, in a new context.

In fact, the constant attention to style which is paid to a nearly monochromatic urban winter contributes as much to a film noir effect as the shattered timelines, dreamscapes, flashbacks, character types, and their tragic lack of judgment.

It would all be a terrible, dark affair if it weren’t so tongue in cheek. Even without the veins of humour, there are moments of brightness and hope, not least in the frequent Christmas references. The box copy may name-drop the Coen brothers but instead I thought of Shane Black’s Noel noirs. And one sequence in particular features a Chinese “Jingle Bells” which evoked more Twin Peaks than Tarantino.

Most of all, I was left with the sense I had just watched a song by the Smiths. Cheech managed to insinuate its darkness and depth through the allure of a near-poppy cheer. As a drama, it doubles as a comedy of errors and, as a noir, it’s as close as Canada gets.

* * * *

Rated 14A

104 minutes

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