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Underground ★★



Director: Sophie Dupuis

Cast: Joakim Robillard, Théodore Pellerin

Released: 20th of August (VOD)

Sophie Dupuis’s second feature explores various types of trauma in the chiefly masculine environment of mining. Maxime (Joakim Robillard) and his girlfriend’s in vitro fertilisation attempts meet with disaster, Julien (Théodore Pellerin) battles with his recent brain injury preventing him from going back to work, and Mario (James Hyndman), Julien’s father, can’t mollify his temper after his son’s accident.

But Underground opens with another tragedy. In a flashback structure, viewers observe a mining incident and then go back in time to follow the causal thread making a perturbed miner initiate the crisis. During the first 20 minutes, one might feel lost in time as the narrative rarely keeps the linearity steady, but one never stops wondering why temporal unruliness is the chosen approach as it spoils more than it aggrandises.  

In the first half, we see Maxime spending time with Julien. He helps the ex-miner find a job or have fun like a “normal” person, but that’s never enough for Julien’s father. With his son getting more used to life post-injury, Mario’s mental condition deteriorates—perhaps coming to terms with the new reality renders Julien a lesser man, or maybe Maxime is not to be trusted? This three-sided trauma-driven relationship proves to be an uphill battle for Dupuis. Despite its touching moments, Julien’s plotline is structurally redundant; the young Quebec filmmaker realises that midway and risking a narrative collapse, she starts foregrounding Maxime and Mario’s relationship.

This screeching turn, however, has viewers enter the chasmic emotional depth within the mining crew. When a colleague’s in danger, the shell of the classically masculine occupation cracks and the ever-emotions-hiding miners drop their differences to concoct an empathetic unit. This reveals their fundamental sameness despite their sophisticated techniques to stuff their feelings behind the work façade.   

However, that’s not the centrepiece, unfortunately. It’s revealed that a drunk driver caused Julien’s brain injury, illuminating that an offscreen car accident catalysed both Maxime and Mario’s traumas. Arguing that this negates all the other traumas’ power (e.g. the unsuccessful IVF) would probably be captious, but it’s fair to say Underground is an overcomplicated way to announce, “Don’t drink and drive”.

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