Maine International Film Festival roundup: ‘The Salesman,’ ‘Salvation Boulevard’

In “The Salesman,” Gilbert Sicotte gives a wonderful performance as Marcel Levesque, the No. 1 car salesman in Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec. Covered in a blanket of snow and reeling from the local mill’s closure, residents have more on their minds than buying new cars.

Somehow, Marcel, 67, continues selling, and he intends to keep his career going for several more years. His only family is his daughter (Nathalie Cavezzali) and grandson, and because of that, he lives and breathes his job.

“The Salesman” is a very good character study that lets you explore the ethical gray area of Marcel’s profession, as he pushes cars and trucks on consumers, some of whom can’t afford them. But as Marcel keeps telling himself, that’s not his concern. He’s a salesman.

The film never draws a clear line on the subject, presenting the morality just as it is, allowing the viewer to be the judge.

Sicotte gives a first-rate performance, and director Sebastien Pilote perfectly captures small-town Quebec in winter. He patiently brings the story to a head, throwing a curve ball at the audience that turns “The Salesman” upside down. All of these things make “The Salesman” well worth watching.

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I’m going to throw “Salvation Boulevard” into the popcorn indie category. It might sound like a criticism, as though the movie’s not genuine enough to be truly independent. But really, it’s in good company.

Take “Juno,” for example, “Little Miss Sunshine” or “The Matador,” another collaboration of Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear. I would call them all popcorn indie movies, and they’re all pretty good.

George Ratliff’s “Salvation Boulevard” takes us into the world of televangelist Pastor Dan (Brosnan), who has taken former Deadhead Carl Vanderveer (Kinnear) under his wing.

An accidental shooting by Pastor Dan (I refrain from divulging too much, because it’s one of the film’s few spontaneous moments) leads the congregation to try to set Carl up as the fall guy. Carl goes on the run, and soon the search is on for the one-time drug addict.

The film points a clear finger at the megachurch culture, and it swims in the absurdity of it all. That’s where some of the movie’s best humor comes from.

But for the most part, the jokes are all telegraphed, stifling a lot of gags and scenarios that could otherwise work. It’s forgivable, especially considering the cast, led by Brosnan, Kinnear, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly and Marisa Tomei. They’re all great here, playing extreme caricatures of real-life types (the atheist, the televangelist, the reformed drug addict, etc. etc.). It’s the cast that truly saves “Salvation Boulevard.”

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