The world of Québec-produced animation is an illustrious treat. For those unfamiliar with the recent rise of exports from studios such as the National Film Board of Canada, the province of Québec is largely known in the entertainment sphere to be a great place for film production. While many usually look at Québec as a perfect shooting space for live-action features, the world of locally-produced animation is a consistent outlet. For decades at this point, Québécois animators have been testing and toiling with the misconception of animation as merely children’s entertainment. Creating compelling pieces of contemporary art, short films to come from the province have gone far in critical acclaim at awards circuits and festivals. With the latest work from Québécois filmmaker Félix Dufour-Laperrière, Archipel proves to be yet another beautifully crafted work from a province that continuously produces consistent challenging animation work. 

Routing back from his previous project Ville Neuve, Dufour-Laperrière has a strange fascination with the evolution of Québec society. Where in his previous feature, he highlighted the internal-psychological deterioration of the human psyche during the time of the 1995 Referendum, Archipel challenges the viewer with a far more open-ended concept. It’s a film that highlights the cultural history of the thousands of islands that exist on the Saint Lawrence River, and discusses themes of mortality, heritage, assimilation, colonialism, industrialisation, and cultural identity. Spiralling with a framing device between a conversation with an unknown man and a woman who is implied to be the natural force of these aforementioned islands, the film combines poetry, dialogue, and slick lyricism to tell it’s decade-sprawling tale. 

It’s a formless film, where there’s not a single ounce of structure in sight. A vibe-oriented film that captures a form of yearning and homesickness through every drawn frame. It’s a uniquely Québécois film that relishes in its nostalgic imagery and its occasional pretentiousness. Where Dufour-Laperrière loses focus of his commentary on the people who coexist and evolve on these landforms, the stunning visuals and crisp sound design more than amplify its moments of scattered storytelling. Rotoscoped animation on archival celluloid footage, subtle stop motion and pixelation sequences, and a restrained amount of animated chalk images all form Archipel’s visceral landscape. 

The end result is a project that more than justifies its occasional moments of distorted pacing and tone. The ambiguity of the film’s unreliable narrator, alongside the accompanied eerie shapes and intricate animation add a level of unease to the film’s historical connotations. It’s a beautiful piece that questions and attempts to answer the decades of human development on the Saint Lawrence River soil. Yet, there probably will never be a definitive answer. Because as time continuously goes by, history is also continuously modified in real-time. No story is truly objective in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps another short dialogue on the islands can be anticipated in the coming decades. That’s all for Dufour-Laperrière to decide.

Dir: Félix Dufour-Laperrière

Scr: Félix Dufour-Laperrière

DOP: Félix Dufour-Laperrière

Country: Canada

Year: 2021

Runtime: 72 minutes

Archipel premiered at this year’s historic Rotterdam Film Festival edition, as part of the Big Screen Competition program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.

By David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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