Director – Félix Dufour-Laperrière – 2021 – Canada – 72m
A journey along an estuary traversing its archipelago, perhaps real, perhaps imagined, a trip into an obscure territory of the mind – from the Annecy 2021 Animation Festival in the Official Competition Contrechamp section
Defying easy categorisation, this is a conversation between a woman on a journey and a man trying to convince her of her non-existence. The woman’s shape first appears as a framing device – through the moving shape that defines her we see locations, places and more. Eventually we see her too, as her representation changes from a moving window shape to a simple animated line drawing defining her features against what can be seen through the window of her shape.
Numerous elements jostle for attention as the film proceeds. On one level, it’s a journey along the Gulf of St Lawrence in the French-speaking part of Canada, the estuary of the river which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. A train journey is represented by the view through a carriage window. There are numerous islands, some of which may be real. There are clips from black and white and occasionally colour travelogue documentary films.
Rather than being presented in straight documentary fashion, much of the live action archive footage has been treated with drawn animation techniques so that it becomes at once photorealistic and something much closer to a country of the imagination. This jostling is echoed in other elements within the film – the woman’s struggling to assert her existence against the man who wishes to deny it her, maps being wiped of their imposed cartographic details by external forces, a cleansing flood, an inversion of the order of things causing people to fall from the sky.
The woman encounters what she describes as fatigue, a struggle between a wolf and a serpent with an unclear outcome – or rather, two clear but opposing outcomes which can’t both be true – in one, the wolf kills the serpent and holds its limp body aloft in its jaw, in the other, the serpent constricts the wolf’s body so that it can no longer breathe.
Live action cathedral domes are illuminated with flashing animated lights. When the man pleads on behalf of the civilizing order of suburbia, the woman points out that few would judge suburbia as satisfactory. At another point on the journey, she introduces footage of her grandmother.
Part road movie, part documentary, part wild imagination, it’s a curiously beguiling trip about insecurity and identity. I can’t think of another film exactly like it – the director acknowledges Sunless / Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983) yet while that may well be the nearest reference point this is a long way removed from that. It’s impossible to imagine the film in a different oral language from the Canadian French in which it’s presented. Parts are emotionally troubling while others communicate such an emotional joie de vivre that you simply feel glad to be alive while watching them.
A real oddity, but one worth checking out
Archipelagoplays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2021 in the Official Competition Contrechamp section which is taking place right now as part of the festival’s hybrid edition this year. The film is not available in the festival’s online version.
Annecy – Contrechamp Jury Distinction