Writer-director Félix Dufour-Laperrière presents an animated film unlike any other. On a black background, the outline of a woman appears. Inside the woman’s outline is moving water, a river, la fleuve. I know it well. I grew up on this river. It’s the St. Lawrence, a great river that flows along the provinces of both Québec and Ontario, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, a source of food, of commerce, and of dreams. Leonard Cohen sang about it in Suzanne. I’ve swum in it, eaten from it, skimmed its lively surface while sitting (screaming) in a tube, and once, unadvisedly, I attempted to water ski on it. I fished it for years in my grandfather’s little aluminum boat, it’s how we bonded, and where we loved, and every single person mentioned it at his funeral 3 months ago. The St. Lawrence ran in my grandfather’s veins. You can smell it from my mother’s house. I still think of it as home.
Dufour-Laperrière’s film is moving poetry dedicated to a river, to a land, to islands real and imaginary. Tracing a people’s history along the river, chasing their future and their ambitions, Archipelago is always beautiful, often philosophical, hinting at a truth truer than true.
Two narrators, the woman from the beginning (Florence Blain Mbaye), perhaps the voice of the river herself, as well as a man (Mattis Savard-Verhoeven) engage in a verbal waltz, like a pair of figure skaters dancing across the frozen river, sparring in such an elegant and delightful way that it’s impossible to look away.
This strange work, not a documentary but not not a documentary, reflects on time, community, our sense of belonging, our shared memory, our fractured identity. It demands little from us but suggests much more than simply the sum of its words and images. It absorbs you into its own landscape, its own reality. We may not know who is speaking to us, or from what time, or which place, but the effect is absorbing, and hypnotic. Archipelago is not a movie, it’s an experience.