May 18, 2024

oh canada, richard gere, urma thurman, jacob elordi, paul schrader


After Quintin Dupieux and Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic essays on their relationships with art, Paul Schrader offers his own at Cannes this week. Dedicated to the late author Russell Banks, Schrader explores mortality, legacy and fraudulence in art as he tracks an irascible dying documentary-maker, Leonard Fife (Richard Gere) giving a deathbed career interview to two of his former students (Michael Imperioli and Victoria Hill). A fated artist who has spent his career being lauded for his anti-Vietnam war stance when he fled to Canada as a young man, and his liberal, game-changing documentaries, Leonard demands his wife, Emma (Uma Thurman) be his witness to his last confession. Riddled with cancer and befuddled by Fentanyl, Leonard recalls the true story of his rise to success – one that may be more self serving than selfless.

Leonard is played in flashback by Jacob Elordi who, though a more rangy version of Gere, manages to embody his recognisable strut and his cadence. A studious young man heading for a teaching job in Vermont in 1968, he’s married, father to a toddler (with another on the way) and offered the opportunity of being a CEO with his father-in-law’s business. Given a week to decide as the shadow of Vietnam looms, Leonard takes off to New England with a banker’s cheque to buy a house and put down roots for his family. His odyssey takes a different turn…

Using multiple narratives (Gere and Elordi alternate as Leonard in flashbacks, Leonard and his grown son narrate), B&W and colour, mixed ratios and Thurman in a duel role – she plays Emma and also the hippy wife of a painter in 1968 who pleasures Leonard in a farmhouse – Schrader’s film is a jigsaw puzzle that requires patient assembly by viewers. Is the jumbled and ultimately meaningless last interview of the great Leonard Fife the last firing synapses of a dying, confused man conflating reality and fiction? Or is the film merely a hollow mess? 

While Gere eschews any charm to play Fife as a self-obsessed deserter (politically and romantically), the film belongs to Elordi. Continuing to show his range and savvy choices, the Euphoria and Priscilla star puts flesh on the bones of seemingly callow youth, giving Leonard the humanity he denies himself in the retelling. In Elordi’s hands, Leonard is, if not necessarily commendable, understandable. Schrader lenses him beautifully and he’s missed whenever he’s not on screen.

Paul Schrader’s Oh, Canada starring Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Jacob Elordi is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC