Director François Girard recycles his narrative trick

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Hochelaga: Land of Souls
March 15–18
RPL Film Theatre

Canada’s submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film (it wasn’t nominated), Hochelaga: Land of Souls is a visually striking historical drama by the country’s foremost specialist in that stuff, François Girard (The Red Violin, Silk).

It’s also a movie that leans excessively on fluffy intangibles and whose characters have limited screen time and barely get any traction.

A sinkhole opens in McGill’s Molson Stadium midgame, killing a football player and triggering an archeological excavation headed by an Indigenous scholar. The objects he finds hint at different moments in the history of Hochelaga, the Iroquois village on which Montreal stands today: a 1267 fratricide, the 1535 arrival of Jacques Cartier, a yellow fever outbreak in 1687 and the 1837 Patriot War. Outside the setting, one would be hard-pressed to find common elements between this episodes.

Just like in The Red Violin, a contemporary storyline opens the way for vignettes that show people at their best and worst (as generic as that sounds). Unlike Girard’s most notable work however, none of the narratives are compelling. The visuals make up for a some of the film’s foibles (the period recreation is flawless), but flights of fancy like aboriginal warriors battling on a football field come across as goofy, and not in a good way.

Far from the star-studded Violin, Hochelaga does feature a few performers of note, like Raoul Trujillo (Apocalypto) as an Iroquois prophet and Vincent Perez as Cartier. Overall, Hochelaga is a politically correct film, but one that reuses old ideas and lacks the pizzazz to stand out.