Monday, April 27, 2020

Movie Review: Antigone

Antigone *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Sophie Desraspe.
Written by: Sophie Desraspe based on the play by Sophocles.
Starring: Nahéma Ricci (Antigone), Rawad El-Zein (Polynice), Antoine DesRochers (Hémon), Nour Belkhiria (Ismène), Hakim Brahimi (Étéocle), Lise Castonguay (Psychiatre), Paul Doucet (Christian), Rachida Oussaada (Ménécée). 
I cannot help but wonder if Antigone, the new film by director Sophie Desrapse, may have been slightly more effective had it not bothered to draw the direct comparisons to the play by Sophocles written 400 years before Christ. For those of you not up on your classics (and I will readily admit I am among you), the play is about a pair of brothers, who fought on opposite sides of a Civil War, and who are both killed. The brother on the winning side, is given a heroes burial, the one of the losing side is given no burial at all. Their sister, Antigone, defies authority and is determined to give her brother the burial he deserves. This isn’t really the plot of the film – set-in modern-day Montreal, but you can certainly see where Desraspe got her inspiration from. But it’s a little bit of a distraction to have the characters, who originally from Algeria, be given classical Greek names – and it draws attention to the artifice of the story, which in general is one that is trying to remain grounded in realism – and does an admirable job of that, given the outlandish central conceit of the film. Sometimes being inspired by something is better than directly quoting it.
In this film, Antigone (Nahema Ricci) is the youngest of four siblings – who fled to Montreal 14 years ago, after the murder of their parents, along with their grandmother, Menecee (Rachida Oussaada). She loves her two older brothers – Eteocle (Hakim Brahimi), a soccer star, who is beloved by all, and Polynice (Rawad El-Zein), the more troubled brother – involved in gangs. The action gets going when the police raid the brothers jacks game, and when they pin Polynice to the ground, and when Eteocle tries to intercede, gets shot from his trouble – the cop mistaking his cellphone for a gun. Eteocle becomes a folk hero of sorts – his life celebrated, his death protested, while Polynice disappears into the legal system – and will likely face deportation, as the family has never become citizens. Antigone then comes up with a bizarre plan to help Polynice escape, and taken his place in prison – figuring that because she is a minor with a clean record, the consequences for her will not be as severe as they are for him. But she’s in for a rude awakening.
Antigone is an odd film, mainly because the actions that Antigone take are far-fetched to say the least, and yet Desraspe’s goal here is mainly realism – and she mainly succeeds. The bureaucratic nightmare that awaits Antigone is vast – and she comes up against it. And yet, many of the consequences of her actions should have been obvious from before she hatched her plan. And as Polynices’s actions throughout the film demonstrate, he isn’t worth the sacrifices she makes for him. Ricci delivers a fiery, defiant, intelligent performance – it’s easy to see why everyone in the film becomes enamored with her. But she’s also somewhat of an enigma as well. I’m not sure we get much of an interior glimpse into her.
The movie certainly is passionate however – and Desraspe and company have crafted a complicated film about immigrant’s place in Canadian society – welcoming refugees one day, and demonizing them the next. I’m just not sure the film ever really becomes a personal story of any kind. It remains a polemic statement, without really getting to know the characters as people. It’s certainly something impassioned though.

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