Denis Côté has embraced the challenge of pandemic cinema with a socially distanced look at the sound, fury, and nothingness of words. Social Hygiene plays out in five scenes, all centred around the writer Antonin and five women in his life, all placed in open fields. Each scene sees Antonin accosted by one woman at a time, and the man who uses words for a living lacks a way to meaningfully engage with the big questions of his life – or escape it entirely.

The Pinteresque drama’s physical limitations may not seem like compelling cinema fare, and its rhythm settles into enjoyable predictability, but Social Hygiene lets its semi-stoic, almost-entirely stationary cast sell the everyday oddities through tonal shifts and linguistic double meanings. The juxtaposition of an odd, stilted delivery and deeply personal questions – from the sister, from the wife, from the woman who got away, from the tax attorney, and from a previous relationship’s collateral damage – often convey more than the words themselves. This is not to say emotion is lacking – its exaggeration adds to the tragicomedy of misunderstandings.

Performance physicality is not neglected. Antonin wears the same black jeans and cardigan, but his women are dressed to contrast – sometimes in a period gown, sometimes in aggressively modern corporate wear. One woman declares a boxing match “sexy”, but the effect of two weedy men dancing gracelessly around each other comes across as comic. Both moments further illustrate the gulf Antonin tries – and fails – to cross with words that protect too much of himself, making the repeated pattern of his frustrations clear.

Even without the necessities of pandemic filming, Social Hygiene’s unique structure highlights the pettiness and profundity of humanity when words just will not do. It is a biting, joyous look at multifaceted relationships doomed to failure, repetition, and hope.  



CAST: Maxim Gaudette, Larissa Corriveau, Eleonore Loiselle, Eve Duranceau, Kathleen Fortin, Evelyne Rompré

DIRECTOR: Denis Côté

WRITER: Denis Côté

SYNOPSIS: Antonin uses his words to engage with and escape life, but he cannot answer to the women in his life.