Starring Nahéma Ricci. In French and Arabic, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
In Sophocles’s original Antigone, big on the Theban hit parade around 441 B.C., the tragic heroine was the daughter of Oedipus by his own mother (relationship status: “complex”), and her two brothers died leading armies against each other. You think you have issues.
For her fourth narrative feature, wildly talented Quebec filmmaker Sophie Deraspe bottle-rockets the play into the 21st century, keeping original names but turning it into a modern moral drama about migration and loyalty. This Antigone (Nahéma Ricci) is a seemingly well-adjusted Montreal high-school student who lives with her, um, grandmother (Rachida Oussaada) and a younger sister, Ismène (Nour Belkhiria) who just wants to fit into her new Canadian homeland.
Refugees from a war-torn, Arabic-speaking country, the family starts to unravel, because dudes! Here, Antigone’s brothers are the handsome, outgoing Étéocle (Hakim Brahimi) and the scam-minded Polynice (Rawad El-Zein), who’s not very nice at all. When the latter is arrested and threatened with deportation, it wreaks havoc but becomes a cause célèbre among rebellious students. Instead of leading a legal charge against the System, our heroine antagonizes everyone by chopping off her luxuriant dark hair and impersonating her bad bro so he can escape. Guess how well that works out.
Antigone also finds an ardent fan in classmate Hémon, and actor Antoine DesRochers’s long blond hair and androgynous mien add gender fluidity to the story. His father, King Creon of Thebes in the original, is now a Quebec politician pointedly called Christian (Paul Doucet); he further diverges from Sophocles by approving of the match. Not that it helps much. But this raises the movie’s darkest question: can people who’ve survived violence at their own government’s hands ever really trust any authority again?
With her nearly shorn head and grief-wracked eyes, Ricci recalls both Irene Pappas, in the 1961 Greek movie of the play, and Falconetti, burning with spiritual fervour in Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. I’m tempted to add Sinéad O’Connor singing that one-take Prince song to the list, but the reference might be too archaic for our readers. In fact, Deraspe keeps things up-to-date with current video effects and music that ranges from Debussy to hip-hop and Arabic party tunes. Not everything works equally well, and it remains to be seen whether some of the choices here will look dated or classical in just a few years’ time. But the stuff that lands carries a wallop.