23-year-old Québécois actor Théodore Pellerin delivered two standout supporting performances in 2020, in Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Souterrain.
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At just 23, emerging Québécois actor Théodore Pellerin has already earned a slot on our list of the best performances of the decade for Genèse, and inspired Justine Smith to explore his entire career so far in an essay for The 2019 Canadian Cinema Yearbook. This year, he had two great supporting turns: one in English, as Jasper, the creepy guy the girls meet on the bus in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and one in French, as Julien, an ex-miner recovering from a car accident and traumatic brain injury in Souterrain.
Pellerin’s Jasper is someone adept at reading social cues, but entitled enough to willfully ignore them when they don’t suit. The minute he gets on the bus, he clocks Skylar (Talia Ryder) as someone he wants to hit on, even though she never looks at him, and keeps looking away from him once he starts talking to her. Undeterred, he remains fairly still — especially notable for an actor who is often constantly in motion — and confident, adopting a relaxed but engaged tone. When Skylar rebuffs him with a snide comment, he waits a beat and decides to tell her she’s funny rather than back off entirely.
At first, Jasper seems like a relatively harmless hipster, except in his insistence on attracting their attention and the way Hittman shoots the scene to foreground the girls’ skeptical to outright annoyed reactions to him. But once the trio meet up in New York, you see Pellerin repeatedly notice the girls’ discomfort with him without ever commenting on it, and while continuing to press on. He almost entirely ignores Autumn (Sidney Flanagan), focusing his eye contact and conversation on Skylar, except when he wants something from Skylar — to go downtown, to make out with him — when he’ll spare a glance at Autumn to figure out how to handle the pair. He uses a different tone of voice with each of them, too: a more relaxed, direct tone with Autumn, while dropping the register and volume of his voice to talk to Skylar conspiratorially, turning toward her as if Autumn isn’t there.
By contrast, Pellerin is almost unrecognizable in Souterrain, not just because he’s covered in a light beard, wears a neck chain, and looks like he’s gained some significant muscle. But the differences between Julien and Jasper are not merely cosmetic. Whereas Jasper remained calm and still, reading people to figure out how to get what he wanted, Julien often avoids eye contact, hunched over and looking down because he feels insecure. Because Julien is recovering from a traumatic brain injury, it’s a more outwardly showy part: Pellerin must manage portraying Julien’s physical disability — a knee injury and loss of movement in one hand — and his brain injury, which has him constantly stuttering as he searches for the words he’s looking for. On the surface, it’s the kind of role movie stars take on to win Oscars. And yet, it’s Pellerin’s attention to Jasper’s emotional state and how he relates to others that really stands out.
Where Jasper didn’t care if he actually made a connection as long as he could get what he wanted, Julien is constantly trying to connect with others. His whole face lights up with a wide smile when talking to friends and acquaintances about a topic of shared interest; his body opens, too, gesticulating for emphasis, and his speech speeds up with excitement. He also gets immediately nervous when it takes him a few seconds to find a word he’s looking for, or when he senses they want to leave and tries to find a way to engage them to stay longer. He regularly curls in on himself with shame when things don’t quite go how he wants.
It’s Julien’s interactions with his best friend, Maxime (Joakim Robillard), that really stand out. Maxime is the only person he’s willing to be vulnerable with, to vent his frustrations about his body in a crying rage, and the only person who wordlessly helps Julien physically. Where Julien beats himself up for any physical shortcomings with everyone else, he’s comfortable with Maxime. Pellerin and Robillard craft a tenderness and intimacy in their friendship even though they don’t know how to physically comfort each other. AH
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available on Crave+ in Canada, HBO and HBO Max in the US, and Now TV and Sky Go in the UK.
Souterrain’s Canadian release date is yet to be set, but it is streaming at the Whistler Film Festival across Canada until Dec 31. It is still seeking distribution in the US and in Canada outside of Quebec.
You could be missing out on opportunities to watch great films and performances (like Théodore Pellerin’s in Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Souterrain) at virtual cinemas, VOD, and festivals.
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