As Boris in Boris Without Beatrice, James Hyndman fashions an exacting physical language of entitlement. Tall, slim, and handsome, Boris walks like the phenomenally wealthy and successful businessman that he is, with an angular swiftness that positions his cock as his body’s compass. This angularity is even and especially emphasized when the man is in repose. Sitting at the dinner table with his housemaid, Klara (Isolda Dychauk), Boris leans so far down into his chair as to form a 30-degree angle between himself and his seat, his smugness and sense of power over this woman so pronounced that he can’t be bothered to sit up. Boris’s eyes expose him, however, revealing panic and befuddlement with his family and his corporeal form. The film never specifies this, but one may suspect that Boris came from a humble background, as his eyes convey a subtle disbelief in his own agency, elaborating on the insecurity that dogs even alpha males.
This contrast in Boris’s bearing—between his enviable appearance and his beautiful yet neurotic eyes—gives the film its comic pulse. Hyndman is a vivid architectural object, an example of the leading man as despairing clown. And writer-director Denis Côté understands the power of Hyndman’s image, often placing the actor in spare and empty landscapes that dwarf Boris, serving as an ironic counterpoint to his ramrod bearing, which strives to assert an inappropriate sense of control. Boris visits a museum and Côté lingers on statues of correspondingly imposing sculptural male figures who appear to be skinned, with their abstracted insides visible. Such sequences, and there are many in Boris Without Beatrice, carry at least two meanings: They’re self-parodic in their metaphoric obviousness, allowing the film to gently rib its own artiness, and they render visual music out of Boris’s estrangement.
Côté knows that he’s mining well-tread territory, as cinema is preoccupied with the theoretical misery of life as a white man who has everything. His images have a puckish satiric intensity, particularly when the film hunkers down somewhere out in the Canadian countryside in Boris’s chic vacation home, but it’s also impossible to keep the audience from enjoying this lifestyle. Of course Boris sleeps with Klara, who’s nearly his daughter’s contemporary, with the ease that’s the dream of most men. Of course Boris has a proper mistress, Helga (Dounia Sichov), who’s also young, stylish, and gorgeous. And why wouldn’t these women want Boris? He takes them on dates to private racetracks and shooting ranges, and treats them in a manner that’s dependent on their inherent intoxication with his status and magnetism.
Writer-director Denis Côté’s film offers an oxymoronic parable that’s been utilized countless times by cinema.
Boris Without Beatrice is at its best when acknowledging what its audience wants: to see an art film that flatters our intellectualized sense of aesthetics while gratifying our baser fantasies. Though there are many amusing scenes here devoted to Boris’s selfishness, most notably a moment in which he chews out a town council for refusing to pave a road, the film isn’t truly interested in him as a person. Boris’s politics are conservative, but that has little bearing on the narrative, and we’re given little idea as to how Boris made his money. Boris’s richness and attending sexual prowess are what matter despite Côté’s obligatory preaching of the contrary, in the tradition of many hypocritical ruminations on the perils of wealth.
This hypocrisy might not matter, as most films ignore ironies of social power for the sake of succinctness and moral convenience, but Boris Without Beatrice hangs its sharp anecdotes on an annoying high concept. Boris’s wife, Beatrice (Simone-Élise Girard), is nearly catatonic for much of the film, afflicted with a mysterious form of depression. A potentially supernatural man (Denis Lavant) summons Boris out to a quarry, in an encounter that bears a resemblance to the Cowboy scene in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and tells Boris that Beatrice is ill from his self-absorption. In other words, she’s a sleeping beauty awaiting her prince’s attention.
Never mind that Beatrice is powerful and attractive in her own right, a member of the cabinet who’s visited by the prime minister (Bruce La Bruce). What she truly needs is for Boris to keep his dick in his pants and come home earlier each day. With her sensually ethereal movements, which complement Hyndman’s poetry of smugness, Girard almost sells this retrograde nonsense, though one awaits a punchline to upend the gender clichés that never arrives. The film offers an oxymoronic parable that’s been utilized countless times by cinema, in loose reiterations of A Christmas Carol: The protagonist must learn humility after learning that the world revolves around him.