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Happiness Is a Sad Song
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by Jason Whyte

"What Does Happiness Mean To You?"
4 stars

What Does Happiness Mean To You? The lead character of “Happiness is a Sad Song” is out in the city of Montreal, asking this very question to anyone she can find on the street in the hopes of making a documentary about the very subject. It’s an interesting idea to go up to a complete stranger and ask them something very unique, and it’s interesting the responses you can get out of them.

I was attending this year’s Vancouver Film Festival and going around to various filmmakers, actors and festival-goers asking them what their favourite movie was. Not of the festival, mind you; but their favourite film of all time. Some people responded happily. Some looked at me like I had just asked them which one of their children they liked more. Others took several minutes to muster a reply and then didn’t make much of one. But what was most interesting was waiting for that response and what movie it would be, and that was what I enjoyed the most out of my quest.

Anne-Marie (Anne-Marie Cadieux) is the woman in this story. She was recently fired from her job as a publicist and now finds herself in a transitional mood. She is out in the sweltering heat capturing the thoughts of people on her digital camera, running into all sorts of different people and responses. Some don’t give Anne-Marie the time of day; others are interested in her curiosity. One particular encounter comes with a young, twenty-something who moved to the city from Toronto “for the work” and later finds himself homeless.

What I liked about “Happiness Is a Sad Song” (even though one character references that line, “What Does Happiness Mean to You?” may have been a more ideal title) is that I would be interested in seeing this very documentary. The difference of humanity is easy to capture by telling a story in this very way, and it’s an acceptable plight for Anne-Marie to question the very nature of our existence and to search for the meaning of ourselves. Her search makes sense.

Director Francois Delisle doesn’t go for falseness with the idea; the characters and the people interviewed in the movie look and act in reality. He jumps from both the video-shot footage as well as traditional hand-held narrative, which is also shot on digital-video, so we are given a dual-documentary feel. There is a subplot involving a theft of the camera (from the homeless boy) that breaks the reality of the story, and yet the film’s finale is nowhere near reality and we accept it.

The finale I will not dare reveal, but Anne-Marie finally discovers the answer to the question she has been searching for in the whole movie, and the way that the movie tells this is unique and original, but it makes sense; your mind transcends and nothing is supposed to make sense around you. Sometimes you sing to yourself, sometimes you skip happily along the street, sometimes you look happily at a passer-by on the street and say hi to them. Maybe happiness is not such a sad song after all?

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originally posted: 10/23/04 03:20:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

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