Those Who Make Revolution Halfway only Dig their Own Graves (2016) |Transylvania Film Festival | 2-11 June 2017
Dir.: Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie | Cast: Charlotte Aubin, Laurent Belanger, Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez, Gabrielle Tremblay | Canada | 183 min.
Directors/writers Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie (Laurentia) have created a daring and innovative portrait of four self-appointed revolutionaries in Quebec, unable to come to terms with the outcome of the ‘Maple Spring’ of 2012, when students striked and protested for months after the government hiked up tuition fees – but returned to studies and their mostly privileged life after the climb down of the authorities. These four mistook the uprising for the first step of a popular revolution, and barricaded themselves into a dingy bungalow, covering all windows hermetically.
Whilst fictional in its approach, the unfolding narrative stays true to real events. After the end of the 1968 uprising in Europe, both Germany (Baader-Meinhof Group) and Italy (Red Brigades) witnessed what a small group of committed urban guerrillas could achieve: although neither movement reached a membership of treble figures, it created a hostile atmosphere that affected whole countries and had, like the abduction and killing of the Italian Premier Aldo Moro, political repercussions for decades to come.
The directors develop their characters slowly: what starts with long speeches and walls full of revolutionary slogans (“Revolutionaries believe in people – what a flaw!), clearly shades of Godard’s La Chinoise, escalates into confrontations with friends and families. Roxanne (Aubin), who calls herself Giustizia, knifes her father during a family dinner, after he has given her another lecture on how they all had great ideas when they were young, but that hard work and reality put pay to their illusions. It emerges that Tumolto (Belanger), the only male of the group, is also clearly intellectually at odds with his own father. Asking about his health, Tumolto is greeting with a barrage of bleats about work, which clearly stresses him out.
Karine (Lussier Martinez) adopts the grandiose ‘nom de guerre’ Ordine Nuovo, and is saved by her mother from prison, but, petulantly goes on to mock her in court, and later, when the ‘revolutionary’ cell has run out of money, robs her of her savings with the support of the three others. Thea (Tremblay), re-named Klas batalo (Class Fight), is a transgender prostitute, from whose earnings the comrades live, and has a client who finds a Rosa Luxemburg text in the room. Thea disowns the ownership of the book, but the client is insistent, quoting from the book (“a revolutionary should also love the beauty of the clouds”), and confesses to having been in love with these ideals – after which Thea breaks down in tears, resigns from her job and participates in the robbery of Karine’s mother.
The four of them spend their days mooching around naked – but denying themselves sex, since they are ‘at war’ – with the world, their aggression turning inward. Tumolto has been discovered watching a video from previous political demonstrations, where police brutality is evident. In reaction to watching this ‘nostalgic’ fare, Tumolto throws a Molotov cocktail into a restaurant. He will never know that his actions killed a family of four, who lived about the restaurant, since Karine is the only one who checks news on the Internet (the hide-out has no phone or TV) and withholds the news from the group. Finally Karine decides on the ultimate self-punishment at the doorstep of her mother’s house.
The atmosphere in the bungalow is claustrophobic with undertones of a fascist death cult. Despite all the revolutionary rhetoric on display, the salient fact is that the four people are really using the political background as an excuse to inflict sadistic pain: mainly on each other. Clearly their profile and approach is infantile. Desperate to ‘get back into the womb’, they have re-created it in the penumbral gloom, where their ‘wailing’ wall is the only significant piece of substance.
DoP Nicolas Canniccioni (Gerantophilia) creates a maudlin atmosphere of negativity and self-destruction and there are some brilliant performances from the ensemble quartet. The film takes its title from a Saint-Just quote, and is a brilliant study of a collective rush into psychosis, where the Real Self is deprived of any contact with reality, leaving only (self)destruction as a solution. A brave and singularly unique effort. AS
BEST CANADIAN FILM TIFF 2016 | SCREENING DURING BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 |