While the film’s vision of Nelly Arcan may ultimately remain just slightly out of focus (a notion that’s duly literalized in its final shots), Mylène Mackay’s powerhouse turn seems certain to resonate.
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Nelly delivers a deliberately fragmentary, time-shifting portrait that is as provocative as it is sometimes frustrating. What anchors the proceedings is the lead performance of Mylene Mackay, whose star will definitely be on the rise after this sexy, galvanizing turn.
The character Ms. Émond and Ms. Mackay create is not likable, but is puzzling in an engrossing way. I am not sufficiently familiar with Ms. Fortier’s work to weigh in on how accurately this film represents it, but as an act of complex homage, “Nelly” gets to a few interesting places.
Émond obviously has deep feeling for Arcan, and “Nelly” is a sincere and respectful attempt to do at least partial, fragmentary justice to a troubled woman able to self-create any persona except a happy one, but it can’t put her back together again.
Arcan wrote prolifically about beauty and female identity in essays and articles, as well as her books, and Émond uses those words extensively in the film. But what may have been profound and poetic on the page feels redundant and banal on screen. It’s a sad tale that never manifests much more than that singular emotion.