TIFF 2023 Review: Chloe Robichaud’s “Days of Happiness” Brings a Sense of Satisfaction

“Emma, where is the violence in you?” Sivigny (Vincent Leclerc), the lead conductor at the Orchestra of Montreal asks his protege (Sophie Demarais) in “Days of Happiness” as she prepares to take on a monster of a piece in Schoenberg’s “Pelleas Und Melisandre” as part of her residency, having the freedom of choice to pick her own piece to impress prospective future employers and pushed towards the most audacious decision she could make to show her ambition. Sivigny isn’t the first to question her ability to put a little more emotion in at the podium, but he is wrong to suspect that there isn’t any stirring inside of her in Chloe Robichaud’s magnificent third feature, tracking Emma over the final months of her residency, eager to appease others when she does not know what’s next for herself.

At first, Emma is introduced in what appears to be the most dangerous spot possible, accidentally drifting into the middle of a lake in a floatilla without knowing how to swim, but as “Days of Happiness” the image of being untethered looks increasingly more safe than all the ties she does have – it’s uncomfortably long before you find out her agent Patrick (Sylvain Marcel) is actually her father and her girlfriend Naelle (Nour Belkhiria) is also a cellist in the OM. Whereas Emma is in command on stage, she’s at the mercy of others off of it wen she’s stressed out about landing a permanent post at the orchestra and she finds herself unable to really confide in anyone when her lover is a co-worker and any time spent with her father usually involves discussing business affair, with Robichaud finding the dark humor in having her least complicated relationship involve sleeping with an ex with no strings attached.

Robichaud and Demarais’ collaboration now extends back over a decade, spanning each each of the writer/director’s three features and it’s quite a special one when the actress has the simultaneous ability to present complete poise and yet one knows she’s all raw nerves, with the central question of each of the films being whether there’s a place in the world for someone who’s not an obvious fit. In general, Robichaud’s films don’t fit the traditional mold, either, but it’s led to her being one of the truly most exciting filmmakers in the world, taking a story with some conventional turns and giving them juicy twists in telling of a skilled technician who only begins to let more of herself spill into her work. Robichaud has obviously conquered these issues in her own art, able to stir emotion when her characters so clearly feel things so deeply that one must surrender to the same sensation and in having Emma’s chosen profession be music, the director makes particularly evocative use of Mahler and Mozart when the sound becomes more robust and rich as Emma digs deeper within herself, a symphony that may only come together at the end, but where you understand the critical role of each and every instrument throughout.

“Days of Happiness” will screen at the Toronto Film Festival on September 10th at 8 pm at the Scotiabank 12.

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