19 September 2004 | troubadour-2
Go and see this film.
The Limb Salesman is a small, indy film with big ambition and
unique ideas. It is the story of a drug-addicted 'limb salesman'
(Dr. Goode) living with a mechanical heart whose life changes
when he falls in love with one of this patients (Clara). Set sometime
in the late 21st century, it paints a grim and entirely plausible picture
of a frighteningly dystopia Canadian future. The world's fortunes
turn not on gold or oil but on water, and of course Canada is ripe
with that particular commodity. There is an incredible shot of the
tattered remains of a Canadian flag atop an isolated mansion in a
bleak, wintry landscape during the opening sequence of the film that
will possibly tell you more about the continued erosion of our
ecological and economic independence than dinner and a lecture
with Naomi Klein.
From a special effects point of view, it's pointless to compare the
innovations of this film to the technical achievements of sci-fi
blockbusters like the Matrix or Spiderman. These studio-fed pictures
are drawing on 100 million budgets, and Anais Granofsky clearly is
not, choosing instead to create her dystopia future in more
imaginative ways. There are some wonderfully simple devices at
work here. Everything is back lit by an endlessly blown-out sky,
always ever-so-subtly a greener shade of yellow. People speak in
hushed tones about ominous-sounding places like City and
Junction, leaving our imagination to gnaw on something a hundred
times more mysterious than the latest CGI-inspired 'world of
I love films that have the nerve to portray the future as a slightly more
mundane and ordinary version of the present, and the Limb Salesman
is no exception. Like Gilliam's Brazil, the future is less a promised land of technological gizmos and smooth, sleek surfaces than a hodgepodge of broken machines and long-dead fashions that speak to a
society desperately nostalgic for a whiff of their own past. Just ask the Hollywood studios if this is true, whose pathetic reliance on lukewarm remakes of middling and mid-century movies is barometric proof that rear view mirror-gazing is the next big thing. The Limb Salesman plays with this idea admirably, adorning the heroine in a striking union of vintage Victorian dress and Rasta Goldilocks. There is even a priceless moment when someone has enough pluck to rev up a rusty,
old gramophone for our musical enjoyment.
The use of water in the film is pure thematic genius. In my favourite scene of the film, we're left to ponder our own cold insensibility when two human
beings indulge in small thimblefuls of water with the orgiastic intensity one might reserve for the elixir of immortal life. And the brilliant irony of situating the story smack dab in the middle of an endless landscape of lethally polluted
snow resonates impressively with the plight of the Ancient Mariner:
"Water, water, everywhere...and not a drop to drink."
The cast is mostly good, with intricately understated work from Peter Stebbins and an open-hearted freshness from Ingrid Veninger. Seasoned
pros Jackie Burroughs and Clark Johnson anchor the cast with rock
solid characterizations, and Julian Richings offers up a fascinating diversion in the bowels of City.
The music and cinematography are breathtakingly beautiful, and so inextricably woven together that the composer and DOP deserve some
kind of hybrid Genie award.
If there is a problem with this film it's in the script. Too often films get made before they have finished being written, and I felt at times the Limb Salesman suffering from this fate - in the absence of a clear protagonist. The story begins and ends with the prodigiously weak-hearted Dr. Goode, but it is Clara we most care about, and it is clearly her story we are urged to follow in the early going of the film. I felt irritatingly torn between these two opposites, and
equally frustrated by the resolution of their story lines into one underlying theme of self-sacrifice. But maybe that was the filmmakers intention all along, and anyway, who quibbles over protagonist shifts when there's a dinner like this on the table?
Certainly not Quentin Tarantino.