It was late November, 2019. I remember waking up from the surgery that resulted in my third limb loss. I reached down to touch where my left leg had been and confirmed that there had been no last minute miracle or unexpected physical healing.
I remember breathing.
Then, I remember laughing. The feeling that I experienced was one of exhilaration, my body that had been filled with toxins suddenly free from infection and I felt better than I had felt in quite some time. I wouldn't say that I was happy about the limb loss, of course, or the significant infection that nearly claimed my life in that journey. However, even in this incredibly challenging moment in my life I knew that this loss couldn't possibly define me.
While many of the medical professionals around me began suggesting that perhaps it was time for me to shut down my personal and professional aspirations, somewhere deep inside myself I knew that this new version of me was simply another opportunity to give and receive love and to find new ways to live into my highest potential.
And so, it's a high privilege when a gifted filmmaker such as Canadian creator/collaborator Patricia Chica comes along with the opportunity for an advanced screening of her feature film directorial debut Montreal Girls. Having its world premiere on August 20th at Cinequest Film Festival, Montreal Girls is very much a film that captured both my heart and my mind as it tells the story of Ramy (Hakim Brahimi), a Middle-Eastern medical student who arrives in Montreal focused on becoming the doctor that his family has always wanted him to be.
From our opening moments with Ramy, it's apparent that he's a complex human being restrained not just by a sense of duty and familial obligation but by his own fears and anxieties. He arrives at the home of his uncle Hani (Manuel Tadros) and cousin Tamer (Jade Hassouné) a ball of uncertainty, grief, and unresolved dreams. While it may sound like we're headed toward formulaic storytelling, rest assured that Chica has spent her 20-year career in film and video projects creating visually compelling and narratively bold works and Montreal Girls very much lives into this history.
Montreal Girls follows Ramy as he seeks love, enlightenment, and the courage to live into his true calling. It's when he encounters two young women, Desiree (Jasmina Parent) and Yaz (Sana Asad), that Ramy's life will be forever changed.
To create Montreal Girls, Chica has woven into its cinematic tapestry the Chi Energy method, an intuitive creative process developed by Chica that connects storytelling with higher consciousness in order to expand one’s creativity and accelerate results. From prep to post, Chica explored the process with cast and crew and spent a year training Brahimi as he prepared for what is his first leading role.
The result? Sublime.
Montreal Girls is the kind of film that we've come to expect from Chica, who co-wrote the script alongside Kamal John Iskander, a film that is simultaneously wonderfully stylish and visually mesmerizing along with being fiercely dedicated to character development and storytelling with a higher conscious and a strong sense of each character's highest potential.
Brahimi is exceptional as Ramy, somehow weaving together all the aspects of this young man from his familial obligations to his quiet grief to his creative spirit and his desire to love and be loved. Brahimi holds all of these things together, both centering the film and giving it a rich layer of emotional resonance.
While Brahimi is the lead, Montreal Girls is a true collaborative effort and ensemble motion picture. Jasmina Parent and Sana Asad are extraordinary as Desiree and Yaz, two young women whom we meet early on and are immediately tempted to stereotype. Yet, over the course of Montreal Girls something beautiful and special happens as we learn more about them and watch their stories and their identities unfold. As Desiree, Jasmina Parent is simply exquisite as one who is an unpredictable fully present in vulnerability while also being powerfully self-aware and enlightened. It's a multi-layered performance and easily one of my favorites in the film.
As Yaz, Asad similarly combats stereotypes and both confronts them head-on and puts up walls to protect herself from them. At first appearing to give a more external performance, by the end of Montreal Girls Asad has blown us away.
The real center of joy for Montreal Girls may very well be the performance of Jade Hassouné as Tamer, an extroverted punk rock musician who seems like the polar opposite of Ramy until one moves past his external facade. Hassouné practically owns every scene he's in with a vibrance that brings not only his character to life but the punk rock music that plays in several scenes throughout the film. Composed by David Deïas, these tunes are interspersed perfectly throughout the film and they complement the film's spirit without ever dominating it.
The entire ensemble is incredibly strong with kudos also going to Manuel Tadros as the warm and hospitable Hani, Nahéma Ricci as the centered and intuitive Sophia, and Chadi Alhelou as Ramy's disciplinarian father Fahim. I adored Marina Harvey as Marie-Claude and special appearances by the iconic Bloodshot Bill and Larry Day are also perfection.
Chica has always had a gift for having faith in her characters. She's willing to show them in their times of challenge and vulnerability, but it's always apparent she sees them in their highest potential even when she's tackled lower-budgeted horror shorts like A Tricky Treat which she also made with Iskander. By weaving Chi Energy method into the cinematic tapestry of Montreal Girls, Chica amplifies a story that allows her characters to transcend their obstacles in ways that feel honest, true, and exhilarating.
It's truly a joy to watch Montreal Girls.
Lensing by Alexandre Bussiere contributes to the film's aura and richness. Perfectly capturing the distinct energies of each character, Bussiere brings to life each character's transcendent journey and moments when they seem like they might be stuck. I laughed when I thought to myself that Bussiere's lensing is kind of like Inside Out for adults.
I also found myself in awe of the original score by composer Suad Bushnaq, a Canadian Screen Award nominee for Best Score in 2021. Bushnaq's chakra-fueled score practically breathed life into me in moments with an energy and spirit that wrapped around this ensemble with beauty and grace.
With Montreal Girls, Patricia Chica challenges us to look beyond the ordinary toward the extraordinary with characters whose lives feel not that far removed from our own. I think, perhaps, that's why Montreal Girls took me back to those days and weeks I spent recovering from yet another limb loss surrounded by so many who suggested giving into disability rather than learning how to live extraordinarily with it. While the lessons are different for Ramy, watching him absorb the gifts of the universe and learn to trust in his own power and destiny is a gift of cinematic wonder.
Montreal Girls has its world premiere at the 1100-seat historic California Theatre in San Jose, CA on Saturday, August 20th along with a follow-up screening on August 22nd. Chica, cast, and crew members will be present for photo ops and a Q&A. Destined to be yet another award-winning film for Chica, Montreal Girls looks to have a lengthy festival run and has already been picked up for distribution in Canada by Filmoption International.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic