Death of a Ladies Man – movie review

Death of a Ladies Man is a Irish/Canadian co-production starring Gabriel Byrne as Samuel O’Shea, a Montreal based lecturer and a hard-drinking womaniser. He arrives home to discover his second and much younger wife having passionate sex with a stranger in their marital bed and asks for a divorce. But this is just the start of a string of incidents that begin to beguile him. He starts having hallucinations and holds long in-depth conversations with the ghost of his long dead chain-smoking father (Brian Gleeson). Then he is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and given just months to live.

He makes an effort to reconnect with his drug addicted daughter Josee (Karelle Tremblay) and his son Layton (Antoine Olivier Pilon) who has just recently come out as gay. He also revisits his native Ireland and settles into a small cottage on the cliffs overlooking the sea to write the novel he has long been planning. He meets Charlotte (Jessica Pare), who works in the local shop, and falls in love with her. But he earns the ire of her jealous and violent former boyfriend. How much of what transpires though is real, a figment of his fevered mind, or part of his fictional novel, is anyone’s guess. And that’s one of the pleasures of this quirky mix of black comedy and drama written and directed by Matt Bissonnette (the 2009 comedy Passenger Side).

Bissonnette is a Montreal-based filmmaker who apparently is obsessed with the music of Leonard Cohen, one of Montreal’s favourite sons. Here he uses the singer’s music to great effect. Cohen’s powerful and haunting songs, with all of their melancholy lyrics, ironies, and wise insights into the human condition, add a superb counterpoint to the unfolding drama. The film’s title comes from Cohen’s fifth studio album – produced by Phil Spector and released in 1977 – which marked something of a departure for the singer. Cohen gave his blessing to the project before his death in 2016.

While the film might sound a bit downbeat, it is actually quite enjoyable, leavened with touches of wry humour, some offbeat imagery and the wonderful soundtrack. The film has been beautifully shot on locations in Montreal and the wind-swept coast of Ireland by cinematographer Jonathon Cliff, who comes from a background in documentary filmmaking (Small Town Gay Bar) and television.

Byrne effortlessly turns on the charm here in one of his best performances for years and he brings a touch of self-deprecating humour to the role.

Greg King

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