The Globe and Mail, Friday, March 25, 2005

It's a long way from Abitibi

Hold On to Your Hat!
Reviewed by Jason Anderson

Directed by Denis Boivin
Classification: 14A

In Hold On to Your Hat!, a young Algonquin man makes his way across Quebec in a rickety red pickup truck. Sam (Wally Alexis Cheezo) travels from Abitibi in the westernmost part of the province to Quebec City and then to the frozen port of La Romaine on the east coast. That's a journey of 2,500 kilometres, though the movie makes it feel longer. Much longer.

The debut feature film by documentary filmmaker Denis Boivin, Hold On to Your Hat! is a cheerful but often woefully incompetent comedy about Sam's unlikely adventure. At home in Abitibi, he is content to sit around watching his Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee videos until his girlfriend Migona (Brenda Papatie) asks him to visit her at school in Quebec City. Soon after taking to the road, Sam is surprised to encounter a man who looks just like him in a gas-station bathroom. That the nameless doppelganger is from Kazakhstan, and not an Algonquin like Sam, prompts the first of the movie's speculations about the links between Canada's First Peoples and Russians - indeed, one migration theory holds that they share a common ancestry.

Sam has more opportunities to discuss the matter (as well as the intriguing connections between Putin and poutine) when a Russian prostitute stows away in his truck. Tania (loulia Volkova) is fleeing a secret meeting of criminals that the Kazakh was attending. She explains that she is a student who was tricked by the Russian mob into hooking in Canada, which seems like a particularly tragic fate for someone who planned to write a thesis paper on the similarities between Anna Karenina and Kamouraska. After a brief stop to see Migona, the two head to the coast with the mobsters in pursuit.

While Boivin's film is commendable for providing a rare view of northern native communities and celebrating Quebec's polyglot society, moviegoers not currently employed by a Canadian cultural ministry will he less forgiving. Boivin does no favours to his largely non-professional cast by forcing them to contend with a poorly contrived scenario and inane dialogue. (My favourite line comes from the Russian crime boss who informs his thugs: "Tania, the new member of our prestigious escort service, has run away - right under our noses, here where we were having a secret meeting!") He also edits the scenes so aggressively, he sacrifices any sense of coherence. The cloying musical score furthers the film's resemblance to a shoddy Quebecois sitcom. Hold On to Your Hat! owes what modest charm it has to the amiable presence of Cheezo in the lead. At least he seems to enjoy the trip.

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