Maureen is a middle-aged mother and wife at a turning point in her life in rural Quebec. She has spent her adult life taking care of her husband and son. But now that she’s not needed by them, she discovers that she’s not respected, taken for granted by those she cared for most.
It’s time for a change, she decides, so she hits the road with her suitcases, eager to restart her life. But on her way out of town, she hits a car belonging to Jelly, the town junkie. But this was no ordinary accident, and Maureen must work with Jelly to hide what happened before she can truly be free.
Writer-director Alexandre Dostie’s short is about an older woman finding her way back to her path in life. But this is no aspirational “Eat, Pray, Love” type of story, and it also isn’t the meditative naturalistic drama one could expect from such a logline, though it has a muted, almost grim palette of cool tones and muddied colors that often characterizes such narratives.
Instead, it’s a wild rollercoaster, achieving a high-wire balancing act of suspense, thrills and rich character work. At 23 minutes, it’s a longer short than most, but that run-time packs a remarkable amount of narrative. The excellent script never feels overstuffed, however, keeping Maureen firmly in its crosshairs from moment to moment. The pacing is also key, slowing down at key moments to observe the subterranean realizations and decisions that Maureen makes, which makes the impact of her actions later all the more powerful.
The craft is impeccable throughout, but the key element of the film’s success is the character of Maureen, who is written and performed with a deep well of empathy and authenticity. Actor Martine Francke’s performance captures Maureen’s many layers, from her sensitivity to her deep, almost gnawing hunger for autonomy. She embodies how Maureen has become worn and burdened by her roles, and also her fear that she has disappeared as the central character in her own life.
Watching Francke negotiate the push-pull between an almost ingrained instinct to care and nurture and an increasingly strong desperation to be free is fascinating, especially when it becomes clear that the auto accident has become yet another mess that she needs to clean up and manage. So it’s no surprise that she decides to make a truly desperate choice — one that spins the story into a tense, chilling climax and conclusion that both shocks and haunts.
Having enjoyed a remarkably successful run at festivals like Toronto, Clermont-Ferrand, Palm Springs and Sundance, “I’ll End Up In Jail” is a cinematic grand-slam home run: an engrossing narrative that can veer from drama to thriller, with plenty of humor thrown in; impeccable visuals that highlight both the tautness of suspense and the desolate world that Maureen lives in; and a richly drawn central character that compels, even when she enters morally ambiguous territory.
For Maureen — and perhaps for many caretakers — roles and relationships often change from refuges of love into straitjackets of sacrifice, where others feel entitled to labor and energy without offering appreciation or affection. Achieving emancipation often means confronting hard truths and breaking down the limiting structures that limit us. Maureen’s own journey to liberation in “I’ll End Up In Jail” is bloodier than most. But in its wildness and violence, it’s perhaps a heightened version of the fight it sometimes takes to break free and make our lives our own.