Friday, September 28, 2007

September and Octobre

Oddly enough I've just seen two films recently that are titled after two fall months of the year. I've only just realized this as I'm about to write about them. Is there a film called November? Perhaps I should see that next.

Other than sharing months of the year, these two films are also "period" pieces and both deal with one group of peoples feeling oppressed by another group. Both deal with colonialism and ideas about nation, but that is probably where the similarities end.

September (dir. Peter Carstairs) is an Australian film that just screened at the Van. film fest. Set in 1968 Western Australia the story is about a friendship between two boys, one white (Ed) and one aboriginal (Paddy). As aboriginal rights begin to change, this friendship is shaped and changed as well, having to be renegotiated.

The story is quite simple in its telling and it is beautifully set on the dusty farmland owned by Ed's family. Paddy's family lives on the land and works as slave labour. There is a parallel of the boys' friendship with their fathers since we learn that they grew up together and had been friends as well. However, with one owning the land and one becoming the servant to him, their friendship is just a memory that flickers awake at moments in the film. As we watch the film we have to wonder if Ed and Paddy will live out the tradition of their fathers and one supposes their fathers before them.

The film is predominantly set on the dusty golden landscape beneath a pale blue sky. Inspired by boxing, the two boys construct their own ring where they mimic their boxing heroes. Ed brings his boxing gloves and each boy takes one, reminding us again of who owns and who borrows in this world. Innocently, the two spar until the sun sets and of course later in the film it is where Paddy will eventually take out his anger towards Ed and all that Ed represents. It is the point of no return for Paddy as he determines that he will not follow in his father's footsteps, but rather find a way out.

What really struck me about this film -- well, there were several things really, but I'll start with one -- was the minimalist dialogue. To me the dialogue was perfection. This film was all subtext, it was all in the visual, which to me is pure cinema (if I may say that there is a such a thing for me). The pauses between spoken words, the way the actor could hold a moment and the camera holding with them created a tension, emotion, and a dramatic impact that implied the weight of the situation.

This film never ventured into the cliche or the saccharin and it continued to surprise me throughout. If you find this one on dvd I recommend you see it. While it was a visual feast to view it on the big screen, the simplicity of the scenes themselves convey what a strong and beautiful film this really is.

If September conveyed it's story through the visual the characters' subtexts, Octobre does the opposite.

Octobre (dir. Pierre Falardeau) is a dramatic retelling of the real events of the FLQ kidnapping and murder of a government official. The story is told from the kidnappers point of view as they act out the kidnapping and then proceed to live with their victim while on the outside world the government eventually responds with a banning of the FLQ under the War Measures Act.

Being privy to the lives and turmoil of one of the FLQ cells in an confined space of a run down bungalow is a tense and claustrophobic experience. While we are invited to understand and perhaps sympathize with the working class and oppressed individuals who took extreme actions to change life for the french people of Quebec, the film is almost testing us to see if we can find some sympathy for these men. However, with only one confined side of the story we are only frustrated by the scene and rather feel alienated from the men and their own inner conflicts.

The heavily worded script, chock-full of dialogue, sounds scripted and I could feel the writer at work. It comes off as theatrical, complete with fade to blacks as if the lights are going down on the scene before lighting another area of the stage. I quickly became tired of the intense anger and overly-dramatic moments that only broke once when we had to watch the characters eat some disgusting looking food. Perhaps repulsion best explains how I felt about this film.

Am I recommending it? No.


Wandering Coyote said...

I heard about Octobre somewhere...the CBC, maybe? You're lucky to be near a film fest! I'd love to see something decent arrive here in the sticks!

Anonymous said...

I'd been curious to see 'Octobre' ever since it was first released but never got around to it, perhaps sensing this would be a mistake. Being a Quebecer and half french-canadian, the subject matter strikes a deep-rooted nerve with me.
Now I wish I hadn't seen it. More than anything, it angered me. The film tries all too hard at trying to portray the FLQ in a sympathetic light. So much so that it can be defined as overly manipulative; I almost gagged at having the garbage shoved down my throat. I very well understand the oppression of French Quebecers and the class struggle that went on; but I don't think violence is or ever will be the answer. The film spends all of it's time trying to show us that these men were struggling hard with the morals and ethics of what they were doing, and that in the end they didn't feel they had a choice in killing their kidnap victim, Pierre Laporte. Please. They certainly did have a choice, and they made the wrong one. Manipulative filmaking decisions like not showing in the film that they actually strangled the man with his own rosary, or stuffing a pillow behind the dead man's head as they stuff him into the trunk of a car, left me feeling angry at the filmaker for trying to portray these thugs in a positive light. Everything about the film was constructed with the intention of glorifying these men to the point where the acting was way over the top, and everything felt staged as it unrolled on the screen.
Why Mr.Falardeau decided to make this piece of propaganda I'll never know. Perhaps a more intelligent and positive film project might have focused on Rene Levesque and the first PQ victory, and how that forever changed the situation in Quebec. Alas, Mr. Falardeau decided to focus his attention on a bunch of thugs.

sp said...

I thought there was a film fest in Rossland? I seem to remember you mentioning one last spring? winter?

I am happy to be near a film festival that isn't too pricey or all about the stars. It's lo-key and still a good film fest vibe.