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Canadian Film Fest Review: Retrograde

March 31, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2023 Canadian Film Fest runs from March 28th to April 1st, with films screening in-person at Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto and virtually on Super Channel Fuse.

A routine traffic stop leads to an increasingly obsessive quest to get the ticket thrown out in court in writer-director Adrian Murray’s Retrograde, which serves as both a glimpse into the banal frustrations of dealing with bureaucracy, as well as an almost shockingly engaging portrait of a very specific type of neuroses.

The film opens with Molly (Molly Reisman), a young office worker in Toronto, and her new roommate Gabrielle (Sofia Benzhaf) pulled over on the side of the highway, with a traffic cop issuing Molly a ticket for “reckless driving.” But she claims she did nothing wrong and doesn’t want to pay the ticket. From here, Retrograde follows Molly as the fallout from this single event starts snowballing out of control, as she keeps replaying the interaction in her mind and driving herself crazy.

Murray shows the initial encounter in a master shot from the backseat of the car, allowing it to unfold with no cuts and the back of their heads in view for most of it. The entire film basically plays out through a series of long, single-take scenes like this that are captured in mostly static wide shots. This not only lends Retrograde its own unique visual language, but also allows the actors to find a certain rhythm with their interactions, lending their performances a sense of abject realism.

Murray’s unique approach does a good job of putting us in every scene, forcing us to become observers to every socially awkward situation that Molly finds herself in, whether at home or at work. Scenes hold until we can feel the discomfort on behalf of the characters; you will cringe, and that’s the point. Murray has a great ear for dialogue and the way certain types of people talk, capturing every awkward pause and uncomfortable conversation.

Murray’s film (his second feature following the 2017 film Withdrawn, also starring Reisman) is most impressive for his fresh, skillfully observed framing of every scenario. This includes a standout scene where things come to a bit of a head at a party, the wide shot capturing the increasingly uncomfortable body language of everyone in the frame. At 73 minutes, Retrograde is also both the perfect length and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

It’s almost surprising how compelling Retrograde manages to be considering the inherent mundanity of much of it, but this is also what makes the entire thing so believable and relatable to watch. Reisman carries the film with her completely naturalistic portrayal of Molly’s neuroticism, and she does a great job of playing what could be a classic Woody Allen or Jesse Eisenberg character, only with the vocal tics of a young millennial women in Toronto. A memorably unique and highly impressive calling card for all involved.

Molly Reisman and Sofia Banzhaf in Retrograde

Retrograde screens on Friday, March 31st at 9:15 PM ET, at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto and on Super Channel. Tickets and more information can be found right here.

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