Archipelago

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Reviewed by: Mateusz Tarwacki

Archipelago
"The feeling of incompatibility with reality is intensified by the animation itself, evoking associations with French cubism, and the oneiric-poetic, sleepy atmosphere is emphasized by disturbing ambient music."

Cinema may seem to have exhausted its capacity for creative narrative. But one experimental animation is enough to refute this damaging thesis. Instead of narrating the story, can one give the narrative tools to the story itself as if it had an identity and its own voice? Can places – both cities and nature – be the narrators of many decades of local and global history? Archipelago by Félix Dufour-Laperrière is a philosophical and poetic journey through French Canada – including Quebec, Montreal, Thousand Islands, the Saint Lawrence River – and an attempt to create a narrative in which time is flexible. In which one can enter the same river several times and even flow freely against its rapid current.

The newest animated documentary essay by the Canadian experimenter, shown at this year's edition of the Rotterdam Festival, is not easy to read. Not only because of the form in which the animation interferes with the reality of archival materials (photos, films) dating back to the colonisation of North America, cutting the image with the silhouettes of characters through which other, new worlds break through, but also with the help of two narrators (Florence Blain Mbaye, Mattis Savard-Verhoeven) of the story – magical, enigmatic, child-curious and non-linear.

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It is an archipelago of thoughts, memories and stories that is a visualisation of Canadian identity, a collision of two worlds: the French, cosmopolitan, carrying the spark of the French Revolution, and the colonising, interfering with the virgin world of North America. All from a distance and perspective of the place.

"You don´t exist" – these are some of the first words we hear in the film. They are directed by the male narrator to the female narrator, outlining the tension between man and history, man and place. A man cannot talk to a place, just as a place cannot talk to a man, although they influence and change each other. They do not exist in relation to each other, functioning rather in a differently flowing time, although they exist in themselves. Félix Dufour-Laperrière confronts places, history and man, manipulating time and making them equal, enabling them to communicate with one another.

In the light of the centuries, man appears as an absurd and incomprehensible being – just as the Archipelago can be absurd and incomprehensible. The feeling of incompatibility with reality is intensified by the animation itself, evoking associations with French cubism, and the oneiric-poetic, sleepy atmosphere is emphasized by disturbing ambient music. The film by the French animator is an experiment, which additionally uses the schemes of a visual essay – its greatest advantage and disadvantage at the same time may be its elitism. One can be sure that it will not go beyond the festival circuit.

There can be as many readings of Archipelago by Félix Dufour-Laperrière as there are many islands in the St. Lawrence River. It is one of those films that will keep coming back to the viewer for a long time, like a half-forgotten dream.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2021
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A true animated film about an invented archipelago. About an imaginary, linguistic, political territory. About a real or dreamed country, or something in between.

Director: Félix Dufour-Laperrière

Writer: Félix Dufour-Laperrière

Starring: Florence Blain Mbaye, Mattis Savard-Verhoeven, Joséphine Bacon

Year: 2021

Runtime: 72 minutes

Country: Canada

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