The cumbersomely titled Canadian film “Remember to High Five the Salesman” is odd. The director Matthew Scott recorded a six part making of podcast and I did my due diligence to try to better understand it. I listened to every second hoping it would help me to comprehend the film but it contained nothing but benign insights into their casting process and how they picked their equipment. The IMDB page lists the film in the drama and mystery genre. Still no help as my last hope for the film was that it was a bizarre absurdist comedy.
“The Salesman” apparently takes place in some parallel dimension in which print journalism still exists and is thriving enough to send a magazine writer on assignment to an island to interview a paper shredder salesman for an article. We are first introduced to the titular salesman Darrel (Martin Lindquist) during a lengthy pre-credits scene where he displays his skills at reading people and analyzing their needs. These tools would seemingly make him more suited for success as a Don Draperesque ad man. Perhaps realizing this, he reappears brooding in his whiskey at a bar where he meets his interviewer Alex (Melina Gammersbach). This dimension would seemingly also lack the internet as salesmen are still needed to sell products that could be bought on the Office Depot website. However, we know the internet exists because Darrel extols the virtues of free library internet. Scene after scene are spent with Alex taking notes as the salesman pontificates about the importance of paper shredders in a society where identity theft and corporate espianage is so prevalent. It’s hard to tell is he is anti-technology and wants society to return to an age of paper or if he is anti-paper because he realizes how unwittingly we leave behind precious and compromising information. Before long he is hinting at shadowy government agencies who he counts as his most important clients. The pair becomes convinced that his divulges have put them in the middle of some conspiratorial plot. Why simply selling paper shredders would give him insight into anything these agencies had to hide is one of many questions I had repeatedly throughout the film. Regardless, the two have no choice but to band together and try to uncover who is tracking them. The acting is rocky and consists of Lindquist making broad and exaggerated facial expressions and Gammersbach struggling underneath her thick German accent. Character motivations are perplexing as well as Darrel fluctuates between aloofly paranoid to effusively suave.
My confusion about the film is further exasperated by the fact that it is remarkably well made on a technical level. Aided by a bold 2.35:1 frame, Scott confidently stages many scenes in long takes and trusts his actors to dictate the rhythm without leaning on over editing. Night exteriors are particularly cinematic as he takes great advantage of his locations. A revelatory scene between Darrel and Alex on the dock with lights reflected across the water and a violent confrontation in a Chinatown alleyway are standouts.
The final 8 minutes of “The Salesman” make a strong effort to redeem the first 75. The ending forces you to reevaluate the film somewhat and if it was a short film might have saved it, but most will probably find the story too alienating to watch until the conclusion. It is a bravura montage that attempts to explain everything that has come before. It is a clever bit of storytelling reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s debut “Following”. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the film couldn’t play at that level.
“Remember to High Five the Salesman” is available to watch for free online http://www.famousmotionpictures.com/