Films that deal with self-discovery are not new. From high art to pop culture, seeing protagonists achieve their potential and even self-actualize has been a part of mainstream cinema for decades. But never before have I seen it told so plainly and honestly that it would shake my very soul. I experienced that after watching the world premiere of Patricia Chica’s Montréal Girls at the Cinequest Film Festival.
Ramy is a young middle-eastern man who has relocated to Montréal, Canada, to go to school to become a doctor. Until now, his life has been conservative and somewhat controlled. Narrow parameters have defined everything about his life and his culture. Now, he has relocated to Montréal and moved in with his uncle. Immediately his life is turned upside down when he is reunited with his punk-rocker cousin Tamer, who invites him out to one of his concerts and to meet some Montréal girls. Ramy is exposed to the anarchy of that punk scene as well as two young women, Yaz and Desiree. He is shown a sense of freedom that has been previously denied to him. The next day he finds himself in a park listening to a poet giving a performance in French. He is ridiculed when he approaches the poet (Phénix) to say he enjoyed the performance despite not knowing any French. We then learn he has written some verses and wants to do what Phénix does. Phénix tears him down and gives him a brutal but honest lesson about what it takes to become a true poet. After all of that, Ramy is still obsessed with two things; Yaz and wanting to become a poet.
Sound formulaic? It isn’t. Not by a longshot. The element that sets this feature-length film apart from anything else is Patricia Chica and her approach to Chi Energy. She trained her cast and crew to use energy principles and the laws of nature to bridge the gap between storytelling and performance. This could very well be the future of method acting, for the performances delivered in this film were nothing less than genuine. The cast wasn’t merely acting in these roles. They weren’t even inhabiting those characters. Instead, they became and embodied everything those characters were experiencing throughout the film. The most significant proof is the lead actor Hakim Brahimi as Ramy. Prior to Montréal Girls, he had only one smaller role in the 2019 movie Antigone, but you would not know that based on his performance here. What he delivered on the screen appeared to come from someone wise and experienced beyond his years. The layers of his transformative performance as Ramy is spellbinding to watch.
Another brilliant performance came from Sana Asad as Yaz, the young woman whose approach to life, freedom, and mystery is almost akin to chaos. As Yaz, we see the polar opposite of Ramy. On the surface, she is the demon to Ramy’s angel. Or is she? Asad’s performance is another multi-layered delight that burns like the brightest flame. Get too close, and you’ll get burned.
There is also Jasmina Parent as Desiree. Parent’s heartfelt performance is one of both reason and calm. If Ramy and Yaz are the opposite extremes, Desiree is in the middle, providing reason and balance. There is also Jade Hassouné as cousin Tamer. His performance is the most amusing as the first to shake up Ramy’s controlled approach to life. Lastly, there is the backdrop that is Montréal itself. The city can be thought of as a New Bohemia, a city of unbelievable diversity, just as the people living there are equally diverse. Ramy’s life lessons not only come from Yaz, Desiree, and Tamer. They also come from the different people he meets, offering a unique perspective on living as if the life lesson is not to isolate one aspect of yourself but to embrace your whole self.
As brilliant as these performances are (and there are many more in this film), that is not the limit to what Patricia Chica does as the director (Patricia Chica also co-wrote the script with Kamal John Iskander). Her approach to Chi Energy also informs how she visualizes a scene and how it is put together. She continues to create art through the use of color palettes, camera angles, and alignment. There is so much beautiful imagery in Montréal Girls that I forgot I was watching a film and thought I was walking through an art gallery of stunning images. Even as Ramy is going through his experiences in discovering his authentic self, how this film is visualized reflects that same journey. At times, the images were so powerful that they had me gasping. Montréal Girls is no mere film. This is a work of art that shook me to my core and left me in tears.
I have stated in the past that the best art will transform you, whether it is an art exhibit, performance art, or even a film; if you are open to it, then it can forever change you, just as the life of Ramy’s is changed. Montréal Girls is indeed a work of art, and director Patricia Chica is its auteur.
I give Montréal Girls 5 out of 5 stars.
Montréal Girls is currently on the film festival circuit. Look for it at a film festival near you.
MONTRÉAL GIRLS tells the story of Ramy, a young Middle Eastern poet who is off to Montréal to study medicine. There he meets his wild cousin Tamer who introduces him to the city’s vibrant underground subcultures and thrilling nightlife. This exciting new world inspires Ramy’s innate desire to dedicate himself to poetry and hurls him into a tumultuous relationship with two young women who shatter his perceptions and reveal to him his destiny.
ONE-LINER: When the muses vanish, the poet emerges.