Slamdance 2021 Review: No Trace (Nulle Trace)

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

As I started No Trace, watching the black-and-white train tracks move by in a blur and hearing the discordant music, I braced myself for a jarring and unsettling experience like Persona, or some other esoteric, unreadable film. I still got an esoteric and unreadable film, but one that was soft and slow, that unfurled at its own leisurely pace. Director Simon Lavoie clearly draws from auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and others, and so in some ways No Trace feels familiar, but only in the sense that it resembles other films who make it a point to feel unfamiliar; compared with most mainstream or even semi-mainstream films, it feels alien.

No Trace follows two women, N (Monique Gosselin) and Awa (Nathalie Doummar), as N attempts to smuggle Awa and her child across an unnamed border in a dystopic future, but we are left only to guess at how this grim world came to be. N succeeds in getting Awa and the child to Awa’s husband, but on her way back, some thieves steal her handcar and force N to walk on foot. During N’s journey back, she once again encounters Awa, unconscious and injured and without husband or child. N helps nurse Awa back to health, and the two tentatively develop a strange, strenuous relationship that tests the both of them.

Gosselin and Doummar are perfectly cast; Gosselin as the hardened, no-nonsense atheist, and Doummar as the delicate-looking, wide-eyed Muslim. There is hardly a shot without Gosselin in the entire film, and director Simon Lavoie relies on her to carry long stretches without any dialogue. In fact, most of the film remains void of any speaking, relying instead on precise and careful sound design to craft a sense of the world around the women. When the characters do speak, they do so brusquely, with the exception of N and Awa’s brief discussion on religion.  

“You’re not a believer?” Awa asks. “I’m not that desperate yet,” N replies. In the end, both of their beliefs will be tested, and the audience can arrive at their own conclusions.

The cinematography is the most striking thing in No Trace: while filmed largely on train tracks or by a nondescript shed in a nondescript forest, Lavoie employs beautiful and clever shots, making even the most boring frame a work of art. (He also includes perhaps the most horrifying image I have ever seen on screen, which was not pleasant, but he does so without overreliance on gore or a huge shock factor.)

No Trace will no doubt leave many viewers frustrated. It changes aspect ratios seemingly on a whim, leaves many things ambiguous, and the slow pace can be a turn off in spots. The film has no clear narrative thrust, only vague brushstrokes, and so has no strong plot to propel itself forward. While Lavoie clearly intends this to happen, I still found my mind wandering in several places—though never too far. No Trace requires no small amount of patience and willingness to accept ambiguity, making your own meaning out of the images on screen, but once you find the patience to sit and soak in the beautiful shots and admire the near-silent performances, it proves to be a rewarding experience.

No Trace Trailer

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