International Film Festival Rotterdam: “Archipel” Review
The French noun for archipelago – an extensive collection of islands, Archipel is a murmuring and drifting exploration of the Saint Lawrence River that runs from The Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Directed by Félix Dufour-Laperrière, Archipel blends the real with the dreamed as it weaves history together with imagination in the form of animation to explore Quebec and all of its past. Pondering the great question of ‘what is a territory?’ Archipel thoughtfully contemplates language, history, politics, and culture to consider what defines a region. Running in the Big Screen Competition at this year’s IFFR, Archipel is a clever, attentive, and beautifully crafted exploration of the medium of animation.
Seamlessly whizzing through centuries of history – sometimes even transcending time in itself – the only consistent variables in Archipel are the voices of a man (Mattis Savard-Verhoeven) and a woman (Florence Blain Mbaye). Between whispers and hushes, they are the very backbone of the film as they string together numerous stories of yesteryear, civilisation, and culture. Dipping in and out of the narrative, the film’s trajectory is built around the man and the woman’s conversations as they philosophise about life and existence. In particular, the man consistently questioning the woman’s existence – ‘you don’t exist’ he persists. This questioning of what is in existence is then rolled out to apply to places, in particular, Quebec. Mixing the history of Quebec with forged fantasies, Archipel wonders how we define regions and why.
Photo © Embuscade Films
Trying to make sense of the world and how we define it, Dufour-Laperrière takes us on a tour of the Saint Lawrence River. Sketching animations across globes and charted territories, Archipel starts to remap out our sense of the world. The film asks what is it that defines Quebec? Is it something physical? Such as the countless mountains that scatter the region? Or is it defined by history and Quebec’s past as a French colony? What about the Innu and the atrocities they’ve faced? Merging archival footage with bright and swirling animation to bring history back to life, Archipel is filled with some dazzling animation. Seamlessly switching between an array of styles – from painting over film stock to forming bright abstract formations of mountains to charcoal-like sketches of old factories. No two frames of the film (or their animation style) are ever the same and they all smoothly stitch together to form a stunning and exciting merging of Canadian history and fantasy that explores the importance of language, geography, and people in defining a region.
If Quebec is not defined by its physical elements – geography, history, politics – then is it defined by something more ideological? Visuals, experiences, and words? This is something also examined in the film, particularly in how audio and visual merge. The constantly changing styles of animation are fastened together by a mesmerising score. Alongside the man and the woman’s conversations is an engulfing soundscape composed of a charming soundtrack scattered with delightful sounds snippets of nature. The score particularly focuses on the sound of streams, water, and crashing waves to replicate The Saint Lawrence River. Filling the film with an irresistible rhythm of differing harmonies, pauses, and even occasionally exploring different languages – Dufour-Laperrière examines the importance of spoken word and sound in storytelling, proving how sound and music can help to define a region. Evoking a sense of nostalgia and wonder, Archipel questions how a place’s identity can be so much more than just physical and be more of a sense of feeling and experience.
Photo © Embuscade Films
Using a layered and tangible audio experience, Archipel uses sound to play on the senses and create an immersive experience that would fantastically in a cinema setting. Unfortunately, while sometimes hypnotic, sometimes transcending, the film is also sometimes tiring as its dialogue and wordplay doesn’t translate quite as spectacularly as its audio and visual counterparts. Archipel is certainly an impressive but partially exhausting watch as the film delves deep into rambling and disjointed existential questions and half-finished resolutions that leave the viewer wanting slighter more.
Dufour-Laperrière simultaneously examines and reroutes history as he mixes true events with whimsical fictions to study the different physical and metaphysical ways that we define a region. Although sometimes testing, Archipel is an exciting and superb feat of animation as it delicately explores wide territories of linguistics, politics, and geography.
Written by Abi Aherne
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