The High Cost of Living, directed by Deborah Chow and starring Isabelle Blais, Zach Braff and Patrick Labbé, pays homage to the city of Montreal while embedding a controversial seed of realism that undoubtedly shuffles the soul. Zouch Magazine’s Kathryn Kyte caught up with the cast and crew at the film’s premier at the Bell Lightbox in Toronto.
With a cast that includes Isabelle Blais and Zach Braff – the “little movie that could” (as quoted by Braff himself) features a pregnant woman and a tortured scene dealer that come to know one another unexpectedly. The tragic meets tranquil relationship fosters a dialogue of sensory exploration and gripping prose with a story exposing panic-stricken guilt and secrecy. The loneliness of Blais character Nathalie meshed with the self-destructive Henry (Braff) mirrors a reality that is all too often forgotten – sometimes you just need a hand to hold. Nathalie looses her baby and soon after sees Henry as her guardian angel – only Henry is more at fault for the death then Nathalie is aware of.
Speaking with Blais, Braff and Chow it is clear that all three are proud of the work put into the film. With a shoestring budget, two shorts under her belt and an underlying appreciation for the Montreal life – Chow’s direction presents a far-reaching cultured film that couples nervousness with hope. “Montreal was quite important to the story. I went to McGuill and I love this city, I tried to use a lot of locations that I had hung out at and were accurate – so like the bar that Zach’s character went to would actually be the bar that his character would go to, “ Chow states. “Except for Zach, everyone in the film was from Quebec,” she furthers.
Chow also points to the young actor Julian Lo (who plays Johnny) as a key representation of the Montreal scene. “The character Julian is a completely one-hundred percent a product of Montreal. He is living in the three different cultures – dominant English, Francophone Quebec and his own family heritage, the Cantonese generation.” One of the key elements of the film is the way characters convey feelings – many of these emotions are presented through little to no dialogue.
“I think some of the powerful films are the ones with no dialogue at all because you have to trust the performance and the strength of the actor instead. I mean, Isabelle simply doing something with her eyes can convey more than 15 lines of dialogue – so again I think it’s just about trusting the actor’s performance that they will convey it in a much better way than actually saying it,” explains Chow. Conveying realism can be difficult, but luckily Isabelle had given birth in the last year so she was able to emulate the experience through her character.
“I just had a baby year before so it was pretty fresh in my mind, with the big belly and the weight – it actually helped me play the part cause I already went through that,” Blais explains. “You get into the movie and you are in a bubble – the way I get prepared is dreaming about how to do the scene, getting the emotion into me and then I dunno how, I just imagine in the situation.” One scene that is visually powerful is when Isabelle’s character stands in front of the mirror and looks at her bruised body. “It was hard to do that scene because it was really subtle and for the audience to see the belly is strong enough and I didn’t have to do much just watch it subtly cause it’s already there,“ Blais furthers.
For Braff, the characters that attract him are those that have a tortured element involved. “The sad clown. I think that’s me because that’s what I relate to in my own life – going through tough times, but doing it with a smile and a joke so ya, I’m drawn to that in characters, “ explains Braff.
If you have seen some of Braff’s past performances (The Last Kiss, Garden State) it’s hard not to notice his personified repertoire that exudes through his voice, his actions and his face.
“An acting teacher said something to me to that was very helpful, amidst all the nonsense you hear the thing that makes sense is to listen. What I took from that to mean is if you can really zone out everything- the crew, what you ate for lunch, the fact that you have to stand on this mark, don’t do that with your head cause it fucks up the light- and you can really zone all that out and look at the person and genuinely pretend you are in the situation and listen to them then you can’t help but naturally react because your body just sorta does it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t – hopefully when the put together my shots it does. Ha.”
When asked what he wants to be known for Braff explained, “Just being a good story teller whether it’s directing or acting. I wrote a play called All New People that will be off Broadway and I also dabble in photography. In fifth grade I told a story in front of my class and everyone seemed to love it and I thought to myself wow that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”