A National Canadian Film Day Must See!: Our Review of ‘The Ernie Game’ (1967)

Posted in What's Streaming? by - April 17, 2024
A National Canadian Film Day Must See!: Our Review of ‘The Ernie Game’ (1967)

The Ernie Game (1967) is set in Montreal in the middle of the winter. The film follows Ernie Turner (Alexis Kanner), who gets involved with two different women. One is a seamstress who is his ex-girlfriend Gail (Jackie Burroughs). The other is Donna (Judith Gault) who is a single mother and a copywriter.

At the beginning of the film Ernie is sneaking out of a room he rents because he can’t pay the rent and doesn’t have a job. He then either lives off of Gail or Donna. He’s an aspiring writer but can’t seem to get started writing anything. Out of options, he eventually turns to petty crime.

What becomes rather obvious is that Ernie is deeply troubled. Part of his charm to Gail or Donna is his boyishness and playfulness, but there’s something dangerous about him. He seems to be in his own world, is obnoxious, lies and contradicts himself.

He is also not comfortable with true intimacy. It’s ambiguous as to why that is, and what the root of his troubles are, which makes him mysterious and forces the audience to make their own interpretations about his problems.

People tell him that “he’s crazy”, and he doesn’t seem to have anyone to open up to. One possibility as to why he jokes around so much and treats life like one big game is because he doesn’t want people to see that he needs help. This makes him a lonely and alienated character.

The style of this film is a departure for the director Don Owen, who at this time had made documentaries for the NFB as well as short films and one feature film, Nobody Waved Goodbye (1964) which had a documentary style and was in black and white. The Ernie Game is in colour and is beautiful to look at. The cinematographer was Jean-Claude Labrecque who used bright psychedelic colours, such as pink, white, yellow, blue and red. The characters mostly wear colourful eccentric clothing as well. It was, af6ter all,  the late 60s.

As Ernie begins to deteriorate and turn to crime with a guy he meets, the cinematography becomes darker at times, but mostly stays with a bright palette. It’s an unusual choice for a film about a young man with serious problems, but it adds to the mystery of Ernie himself. It throws the audience off balance, just like Ernie throws people in his life off balance, and puts you in the playful mind of Ernie. He only shows people his charming and humorous side and keeps his real self closed off.

The performances are incredible. Alexis Kanner is so convincing as this troubled man that it seems as if they found him off the street and put him in this role. He often has a vacant expression, which is perfect for Ernie who constantly wears a mask. His humour and charm are effortless, as well as his  sorrow, when his life becomes too unbearable to live another day.

This film is ahead of its time because of how compassionate it is towards mental health issues. We see the stigmas Ernie faces as people tell him that “he’s crazy”, and even though society has come a long way addressing mental health since this film came out, those stigmas unfortunately still exist, and they leave people like Ernie feeling alone with no one to turn to.

The Ernie Game is one of my favourite Canadian films, and on National Canadian Film Day, you need to do yourself a favour.  Take advantage of the NFB streaming service (which is free for us Canadian taxpayers) and watch this underrated great film. It also features Leonard Cohen singing his song “The Stranger Song” at a party Ernie is at in the film.

You can also purchase the Blu-ray from Canadian International Pictures (CIP), which has many special features and is scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm interpositive.

Check out more Canadian Film reviews I’ve done on my YouTube channel at the link below.


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Robert is an Actor, Acting Teacher and has a Video Podcast dedicated to exploring how stories are told on film! Robert is a graduate of George Brown Theatre School’s certificate program and of The New School of Drama’s two-year diploma program. He also trained at The Actor’s Temple in London, England. Some credits include Private Eyes (TV Series) Robbery (Feature Film On Amazon Prime), Mariner (winner, 10 Best Short Films of Canada, TIFF, 2016), Moose On The Loose (Magnus Theatre), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, The Next Scorsese (short film), Anna (short film, winner of numerous film festival awards). As an acting coach and teacher, Robert runs his own workshops, and has taught at Fraser Studios and Improv Your Acting Studio. Robert has been a cinephile for many years and has always been fascinated by all kinds of movies. He feels that educating people on the importance of how movies reflect our lives is essential. Films open up our hearts, minds and sense of empathy and nothing is more valuable than that! The worst thing you can say to Robert is "It's Just A Movie". Follow me on Letterboxd @RBellissimo X/Twitter - @RBatthemovies Instagram - @RobertBellissimoAtTheMovies Facebook - www.facebook.com/RobertBellissimoAtTheMovies
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