Oh, Canada, Paul Schrader’s puzzle film

OH, CANADA © Oh Canada LLC - ARP

A figure of the New Hollywood, at 77-years of age, Paul Schrader is continuing his path as an unfettered filmmaker, in an American industry that is ever more restrictive. The proof of this is Oh, Canada, a sparse work adapted from the Russell Banks novel, for which the American filmmaker has cast Richard Gere.

Fifty years after his debut alongside Martin Scorsese with Taxi Driver (1975), co-writing the script and dialogues, Paul Schrader, a screenwriter-turned-filmmaker, still has the vitality of a young upstart. The proof of that lies in the triptych made up of First Reformed (2017), The Card Counter (2021) and Master Gardener (2023), his three most recent feature films, which saw the director reconnect with the narrative structures of his early films and which describe the search for salvation of solitary characters eaten away by internal abysses.

Oh, Canada represents a shift in register as Paul Schrader has adapted the final novel of the American author Russell Banks, who died in January 2023, just a few months before shooting began. In 1997, Schrader had already adapted one of his novels when making Afflictions, which saw James Coburn win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Structured as a puzzle, by the assembly of scattered memories and assorted formats, Oh, Canada tells the story of a famous and controversial filmmaker at the end of his life, and of one of his disciples, who has come to his bedside to hear his final words. Like a lot of characters in Paul Schrader films, the main character is haunted by the army.

Shooting this film in only 17 days, the American filmmaker cast Richard Gere, who had worked with him on American Gigolo (1980), and Uma Thurman, who hasn’t appeared on the big screen since The House That Jack Built,  Lars Von Trier’s feature film screened Out of Competition in 2018.