SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! No Trace is a story of secrecy, mystery, and the horrors of modern war. Helmed by French Canadian independent filmmaker Simon Lavoie, the movie follows an older woman (Monique Gosselin) who travels along a rail line with a small cart of sorts that fits herself and a few wooden cargo boxes. She passes through a checkpoint controlled by an armed militia working for an unknown organization to transport goods and people. She transports a younger Muslim woman (Nathalie Doummar) and her child across the checkpoint to reunite with her husband. She then gets her cart stolen, and while looking for shelter, she finds a shack and the unconscious body of the Muslim woman. After nursing her back to life, the two women struggle to survive and come to grips with their dire situations.
If you couldn’t already glean from this plot and character synopsis, No Trace intentionally has a near nonexistent story and sparse dialogue. This is a double-edged sword that works both in favor of and against the film’s intentions. The decision to not give the audience even a shred of contextual clues builds an air of mystery around every event. The audience isn’t even told what time period the movie is set in. While I assumed it was in the mid-20th century, it could have been in the past, present, or future.
“…the two women struggle to survive and come to grips with their dire situations.”
The only thing that the context clues made clear is that this is a fictional setting, as exemplified when the older woman refers to the land they are in as “The Territories,” despite being set in what looked to me like North America and them speaking in French. This mystery provided some context of its own, as it made it clear that both of the women were mere pawns in a larger game, nearly powerless beyond attempting to avoid the forces that control the land. Thus, it crafts a powerful representation of the experience of being in a land engulfed by war and the experience of being a member of a targeted group of people in hostile territory.
The other edge to this sword is that the lack of dialogue and unclear narrative left all the characters underdeveloped. There were a number of times in which a character would say seemed out of character, only because I didn’t know enough about them and made assumptions that turned out to be wrong. This has the added effect of making it difficult to emotionally connect with either of the women. Even when they did make a characterizing decision, many times I did not know why they made it because I lacked the context to understand it. While this added to the mystery, it simultaneously detracted from my ability to put myself in their shoes.
"…intentionally has a near nonexistent story and sparse dialogue."