Canada Now: Nelly

Canada Now: Nelly
Directed by Anne Émond
Starring Mylène Mackay, Mylia Corbeil-Gauvreau, Mickaël Gouin, Sylvie Drapeau, Catherine Brunet and Francis Leplay
Screening as part of Canada Now Film Festival

by Bernie C Byrnes



Nelly is a compelling depiction of Borderline Personality Disorder inspired by the life and work of Canadian novelist Nelly Arcan. It’s a gorgeous, sensitive biopic that beautifully weaves make-believe and memoir, combining elements from Arcan’s life with elements from her books.

Nelly is a habitual liar, damaged, brilliant, insecure and dangerously vulnerable. Arcan was also all of those things as well as being an artist who was terrified of the critics, of getting older, and of not being desired as an artist or a woman any more. There are some soul-searching speeches here that are darkly unnerving.

Patricia McNeil won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Costume Design and deservedly so. The deliberate references to Marilyn Monroe add yet more risky glamour to this beautiful biopic.

Mylène Mackay plays the eponymous heroine superbly, skillfully depicting a fragmented woman lost between the irreconcilable identities of writer, lover, prostitute and star. Mackay shimmies between the personas of dowdy, anxiety-riddled author, mouth wateringly beautiful socialite and successful prostitute with apparent ease. To say that she is versatile falls short of conveying the mindboggling range of character and emotion she displays. Arcan was clearly a complex human being with a vast array of fractured identities. Mackay convincingly inhabits them all.

It’s not a happy watch. Inevitably Arcan, like many of her characters, took her own life aged 36. She was found dead in her Montreal apartment on September 24, 2009 having hanged herself. She had just finished writing her last book, Paradis Clef En Main, whose narrator is left handicapped after a failed suicide attempt. This was not the first time Arcan had attempted to kill herself and crucially the film doesn’t shy away from that aspect of her life.

Anne Émond demonstrates a rare talent for staying just the right side of romanticizing in this impressive portrayal of the drug soaked, seedy surroundings and dubious choices that are Nelly.


Leave a Reply