73 blogs #36: Review

As part of my writing challenge undertaken with a fellow writer, to write 73 blogs from a given list, I am on to #36: Review a film you have recently seen. I can’t actually remember the last film I saw – maybe ‘Last Christmas’ which I actually saw the Christmas before last, 2019… So to review that would mean having to research it and write about what I vaguely remembered – not a proper review really. So instead of a film, I shall review a TV series, a Canadian programme called ‘Cardinal, a police procedural based on novels by Giles Blunt, and set in a fictional city called Algonquin Bay. The Algonquin people were the original people of what is now Canada.

John Cardinal is the eponymous detective in a Canadian crime series, first aired in 2017. There have been four series so far, starring Billy Campbell as Cardinal and Karine Vanasse as Detective Lise Delorme. Each series has six episodes which follow the investigation of a particular crime, as well as focussing on the characters of the officers involved. Cardinal is worn down by the mental health problems his wife suffers, and is as in many of this type of TV series, somewhat of a maverick, although a very quietly spoken, and rather sad maverick.   Billy Campbell is the sort of actor who portrays his character through expression, body language, posture, and even his gait; he allows the audience insight into his feelings and motivation, without saying anything, and yet the other characters are not necessarily aware of this. I felt as if I were reading a book and had a reader’s insight into a character that the other characters don’t have – they only see the external but we glimpse the internal thoughts, feelings and struggles. Similarly Karine Vanasse as Delorme, conveys warmth and empathy without any words; there are no jokes or comedy in this rather grim but compulsive series, and yet Vanesse gives her character a supressed sense of fun and liveliness behind her passive but engaged expression.

The plots are intriguing, but rather gruesome – of course they are, that’s the premise of such TV series! In series 1, Forty Words for Sorrow, Cardinal believes a missing Native Canadian girl has come to harm and eventually after some intrigue within the police department, sadly she is found dead. Cardinal’s new partner is Delorme who is covertly investigating him, and together they investigate the murder which, as you might expect is actual the work of a serial killer.  The pace of the series is measured, unhurried, and focussing on the visual as well as the story-line so that the tension builds to the conclusion,  leaving the viewer satisfied and yet with many thoughts on what they have been watching. Series 2, Blackfly Season, shows not only the investigation team at work, but the perpetrators of the rather sickening murders which have been committed to conceal other crimes.  The background story to Cardinal’s personal life, the struggles of his wife with her mental health, comes to the fore, adding to what the viewer understands of his character and the difficulties he faces, personal and professional. There are two more series which I have yet to watch, By the Time You Read This and Until the Night.

There is however, another major character in Cardinal, and one I find beautiful, yet very disturbing, creepy and a thing of disturbing dreams. This other character is the vast empty forests of Canada where much of the action takes place. I love woods and forests, and there are few things nicer than walking beneath trees, following tracks and trails with so much to see, so many different sounds to listen to; above all is the great feeling of peace and serenity when wandering through ancient woodlands.  The Japanese call it ‘forest bathing’ – a process of relaxation, known as shinrin yoku; it offers a natural way to be calm and quiet amongst the trees, to observe nature while deeply breathing it all in. Apparently, and I’m sure it’s true, shinrin yoku allows forest bathers to de-stress and boost their health and wellbeing in a natural way. I am not sure I would feel relaxed, calm, de-stressed if I were walking among the trees shown in Cardinal. I feel quite tense just watching – the trees are familiar to me, including birches and oaks, Sitkas and other pines and spruces, graceful, beautiful giants, but those starring in this TV series hide their true nature and become sinister, watchful, concealing all manner of bad and dangerous things! The bird calls are menacing and ominous, the sound of pattering animals alarming, and the undergrowth is humming with unseen almost malign anticipation. Even Cardinal’s house, in the forest is not a place of safety but menace – and why doesn’t he draw the curtains? Bad things might be waiting outside in the forest, but no-one seems to lock their doors, allowing those bad things to enter!

I recommend you watch Cardinal for the superior characters, acting and plots, but most of all to give yourselves a real creepy fright with those sinister trees… just waiting… just watching… just swaying and ready to…

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