Canadian writer/director Simon Lavoie’s No Trace could easily be summed up as an arthouse flex. Shot in black and white, switching between two aspect ratios (letterbox and 4:3), set in a post-apocalyptic world and with little dialogue, No Trace is the sort of film one might classify as hard arthouse. Lavoie wants to make it clear that he is a capital-A Auteur and not just a director, emphasizing tone and atmosphere over plot and logic as he explores two characters surviving in a brutal world: the hardened traveller N (Monique Gosselin) and an unnamed young mother (Nathalie Doummar) who needs N’s assistance to sneak across a heavily guarded border with her baby in order to reunite with her husband. For N, this is just another job, using her handcar to transport passengers across abandoned tracks in what used to be rural Quebec. However, things turn south for N, leaving her stranded in a harsh landscape surrounded by murderers and cannibals.
There’s an obvious intent by Lavoie to carve out a distinct name for himself. That sincerity helps make his film engaging to some degree. (Or at least fight off any attempts to dismiss his work as pretentious.) But the content here is familiar to anyone with a slight grasp of more esoteric fare. The plot and setting come across as Lavoie’s desire to take a crack at adapting Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, down to re-creating one of the book’s more horrifying moments (a scene that the official adaptation didn’t bother translating to the screen).
Lavoie has cited filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and Aleksandr Sokurov as influences, although most of No Trace feels derivative of a whole host of auteurs, namely Europeans like Béla Tarr, Michael Haneke, Sergei Loznitsa, and plenty more. This gives the film a sense of predictability, retracing the steps of bigger names in a way that’s like going through a checklist of arthouse ideas. Even its seemingly impossible conclusion is easy to figure out well before it happens. The good news is that Lavoie is cribbing from the right people–but sadly No Trace can’t escape its own penchant for writing cheques it can’t cash.
No Trace premiered at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.