reviewed by Marc Glassman
David Bezmozgis, director and writer. Judy Holm and Michael McNamara, co-producers. Starring: Mark Rendall (Ben Spektor), Holly Deveaux (Cayla Chapman), John Mavro (Sammy Balaban), Scott Beaudin (Noah), Melanie Leishman (Melanie), Sergiy Kotelenets (Yuri Spektor), Nataliya Alyexeyenko (Mila Spektor)
It’s late May,1988 and teenagers in North York are transfixed by the Stanley Cup finals, rock concerts, friendship and romance. Ben Spektor, the son of Russian immigrant Jews, plays hockey, announces the news on the high school intercom and is a good student. One day-—Victoria Day—he goes down with his friends to the Toronto’s Ex—the CNE—to see Bob Dylan perform. There, he loans five dollars to Jordan, a hockey teammate whom he doesn’t like very much, knowing that the boy will likely spend the money on drugs.
The next day, Jordan isn’t at school—and everyone gets worried: the school, the boy’s dad and sister and the police. An ordeal begins for Ben and all of the people Jordan knew. As the media descend on this North York community, Ben has to face the truth—he may have been partially responsible for whatever has happened to Jordan. And he’s attracted to Jordan’s sister.
So begins Victoria Day, the moody, terse coming-of-age tale written and directed by Torontonian David Bezmozgis. Shot in the North York area where Bezmozgis grew up and acted by young Toronto-based performers, this low budget drama is a gem. The film has the texture and pace of a real-life tale; resolutely Canadian, it offers us characters and situations that hold a mirror to many of our lives, growing up in Ontario or, quite frankly, suburbia anywhere in North America.
The mating rituals are likely still the same: the awkwardness among people one cares about making a vivid contrast to the crazy openness that can occur at a party. Bezmozgis returns us to school life in the ‘80s, with the constricted corridors and interplay between teachers and students and reminds us how important hockey was to boys growing up in Canada.
Particularly fascinating is the relationship between Ben and his parents Mila and Yuri. They speak Russian at home—and Ben understands from their anecdotes how much he means to them. There’s a lot of love, of course, but also a very real set of aspirations—Ben’s family desperately need him to succeed.
Inevitably, a third act must take place and Ben will have to confront his guilt over Jordan’s disappearance. There’s a beautifully judged scene between Ben and Jordan’s sister Holly, which shows the measure of the young man. Victoria Day is a film of small but very real pleasures. It marks the debut of a fine talent, David Bezmozgis, who has already shown considerable ability with prose in his book, Natasha and other Stories. He will be heard from again—in literature and cinema.
Victoria Day is a film worth supporting—and Bezmozgis has a talent worth celebrating.