Isabelle Blais and Zach Braff in The High Cost of LivingThere are certain hardships people are compelled to deal with in life that are so devastating you would not even wish them on your worst enemy. To be the cause of such excruciating pain would be similarly unbearable, but without a time machine there’s little that can be done about it. In The High Cost of Living, a woman is forced into a horrible position, while the man that put her there is so guilt-ridden he rapidly and anonymously shifts from repulsive stranger to miraculous saviour.

Nathalie Beauchamp (Isabelle Blais) and Henry Welles (Zach Braff) live in the same Montreal neighbourhood, but exist in completely different worlds. Eight months pregnant, Nathalie is anxiously preparing for the birth of her first child at her elegant, immaculate home. Meanwhile, Henry casually weaves in and out of scruffy establishments, delivering illegal pharmaceuticals to his customers. Their lives fatefully collide one night when Henry hits Nathalie and, in a panic, cuts and runs. Overwhelmed by guilt, Henry sets out to find Nathalie and is relieved to discover she survived the accident. But he doesn’t stop there and seeks out a chance meeting while concealing his involvement in the crash. When Nathalie shares the news that her child did not survive and that she must give birth to her stillborn daughter, it shakes Henry to the core. Although married, Nathalie’s workaholic husband (Patrick Labbé) is unavailable and inattentive; but Henry seems just the opposite – caring, charming and fun – so he easily slips into the role of her friend and confidant. As the police intensify their search for the hit-and-run driver, Henry’s past misdeeds and the looming question of how he will tell her the truth begin to take centre stage.

Nathalie’s circumstances are so unimaginable, any attempts at sympathy seem inadequate. It’s impossible to understand the decisions she makes in her condition, despite the fact that they appear to exasperate the situation. Henry, on the other hand, manages to draw our sympathy, but only until you’re once again struck by the heinousness of his crime and his current actions. As a result, their burgeoning relationship is constantly and simultaneously infuriating and tolerable.

Blais’ raw performance as a woman carrying a daily reminder of her crushed dreams is remarkable. Her pain is evident at all times and in the simplest gestures. Braff is good as the conflicted Henry. Rough around the edges, he exudes an air that indicates he could have been somebody, but went down the wrong path somewhere along the way. Both characters are carrying heavy burdens and hearts, and both actors portray this quality exceptionally.

Director Deborah Chow’s debut feature is complex, but executed extremely well. It maintains a strong emotional connection, entrancing audiences from beginning to end. Moreover, the maturity shown in the film’s accomplishment is outstanding.

The High Cost of Living was the recipient of the SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film.

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