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RIDM Preview: Lick Salt

Posted by Omar / November 16, 2006

image courtesy of RIDM website

In case you already didn't realize that all families are kind-of fucked up, there are scores of memoirs out there to demonstrate the point. In the last few years, the memoir format has merged with the documentary and brought us films like the brilliant Capturing the Freidmans, the kind-of brilliant Tarnation and now the not-quite brilliant Lick Salt.

Because Lick Salt is neither as daring or well made as either of those two films, which delve into issues like harbouring a child molester in the family, or suffering from hereditary mental illness, Ryan Feldman's film about his grandmother seems slight by comparison.

And yet, Lick Salt has a certain something. The film begins when unemployed Torontonian slacker Ryan becomes reacquainted with his grandmother Cecile at his grandfather's funeral. This results In a portrait of the elderly Jewish lady and continues until slowly slipping into dementia. Lick Salt tackles a subject we all would normally not like to contemplate - the bittersweet dilemma of dealing with the aging.

Sounds saccharine? Not when you consider that Cecile is completely estranged from one of her sons, Ryan's father, who refuses to talk about his mother. Cecile's other son has become a reluctant caregiver, who receives torrents of abuse from Cecile claiming that she is being robbed. It soon becomes clear that Cecile was probably a difficult mother to take. Even as a Grandmother, she is fairly prickly - equal parts blunt and negative mixed with a guilt-inducing passive aggressiveness. As Ryan's uncle says at one point "She really hasn't changed that much over the years."

And yet, there is something compelling about watching Cecile in her strange senior citizen's apartment complex, fetching odd looking bagels from the fridge and muttering "you want something to eat?" Ryan tells her that he want to film her because she's honest. Obsessively blunt might be a better way to put it, yet interesting truths emerge from Ryan's interactions with her.

And when signs of senility start to show with Cecile, the film invites our compassion. From moments when Cecile recounts the horrors of her mother, sister and her running from Nazi soldiers, to tragic sequences of Cecile attempting to communicate with her photographs, Feldman has shown us the very cruelty of aging. We don't necessarily get better in life, we simply get older.

My largest complaint with this film, aside from amateur camerawork, was the disconcerting effect of Ryan inserting large blocks of text for exposition. I'm not a huge fan of voice-overs, but wouldn't that have worked much better than reading personal thoughts supered onto shots on the screen?

All the same, Lick Salt is filled with the same mix of uneasiness and charm that a visit to any cantankerous grandmother would induce.

Playing Thursday November 16th, 2006 at 19:30 (Cinematheque Quebecoise) and Friday November 17th, 2006 at 19:00 (Goethe Institut Montreal).



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