TIFF 2023 | Days of Happiness (Chloé Robichaud, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Saffron Maeve

An inopportune time to make a film about a lesbian conductor in a private relationship with her cellist gearing up to conduct Mahler, maybe, but Chloé Robichaud’s Days of Happiness is most invested in the tussle for control between a young woman and her overbearing father. A gifted, personable conductor and pianist, Emma (Sophie Desmarais, who starred in Robichaud’s 2013 debut Sarah Prefers to Run) has captured the attention of Quebec’s classical music scene. With her year-long residency coming to a close, her next move is vital. Emma’s relentlessly unfeeling father and agent Patrick (Sylvain Marcel) exists only to chastise her efforts, his unsettling presence polluting the air and plainly suggesting violence—even if this only materializes as late-in-the-game flashbacks. 

It’s only through Emma’s romance with Naëlle (Nour Belkhiria) that she begins to glean just how far gone her relationship with Patrick is, and how she might cleave her craft from her aggressor. The camera smartly looks to the orchestra to determine Emma’s ability to wrangle, to inspire feeling, to win. A flush of confused faces during Schoenberg; contended nods during Mozart. Beyond these sequences which trisect the film, Days of Happiness weathers the same formal austerity as its protagonist, not quite heeding the advice which every mentor presents to Emma: instead of acting out emotions, try feeling them.