Review: Elephant Song

Much to his distain director Xavier Dolan has been dubbed arthouse cinema's enfant terrible - but he undeniably remains a force to be reckoned with whether working on screen or off (usually both). His latest project, Elephant Song, sees him star alongside Bruce Greenwood, with directorial duties falling to Charles Binamé.

Nicolas Billon pens this tale of psychiatrist, Dr. Green (Greenwood) attempting to get to the bottom of a case regarding missing colleague, Dr. Lawrence. Green is entered into a battle of wits with psychiatric patient Michael Aleen (Dolan) who seems to hold the answers to Lawrence's disappearance.

Billon's screenplay is filled with sharp twists and makes a number unexpected deviations from the conventional cinematic psychiatrist vs. patient dynamic, allowing Binamé to craft an atmosphere of unease and unpredictability here. From their first meeting it is evident that Dr. Green will have his hands full with the temperamental Michael who ensures that it's never clear whether he is luring the psychiatrist with red herrings or genuinely dropping cryptic clues regarding the disappearance.

There's further intrigue from the 1960's setting which provides a portrait of the changes in the field of psychiatry. Whilst by no means a factual piece, there's added originality in watching problems of physical harm, medical malpractice, and sexual foul play swept under the rug - whilst allowing us to sympathise with Dolan's ultimately tragic protagonist.

Elephant Song is at its best when capturing the battle of wits between doctor and patient. There's a real delight in watching the finely tuned performances of Greenwood and Dolan as they go head to head in these tensely dramatic mind games. Dolan packs the role with a manic energy allowing a slight amount of vulnerability to seep through this damaged psyche. The actor captures the dichotomy between someone crying for help and self-aware pisstaker with an engaging ease. Greenwood provides one of his strongest performances as the Doctor submerged into this messy case - particularly shining in the well-crafted scenes with ward nurse, Susan Peterson (an excellent Catherine Keener), with Billon's screenplay going on to detail the fragile history between the pair.

There are flashbacks to Michael's early life involving a traumatic elephant execution and the separate fate of his opera star mother, however, these sadly don't get the time required to create much of a narrative relevancy or lasting impact. Similarly Carrie-Anne Moss feels somewhat neglected as Green's current wife.

Elephant Song is a truly impressive showcase for the acting talents of Greenwood and Dolan that engages from the onset. A twist-filled screenplay from Billon and tense direction from Binamé ensure that this is a rewarding watch.


Director: Charles Biname
Stars: Xavier Dolan, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie-Anne Moss & Catherine Keener

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