By Etan Vlessing
Somebody should have told co-directors Simon Lavoie and Mathieu Denis before they released Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves) in Quebec in late January — there’s no half-way with fundamentalists and terrorists when it comes to on-screen movie portrayals.
Deepa Mehta learnt that when she had to abandon shooting in Varanasi on Water, her Oscar-nominated film, in 2000 after Hindu fundamentalists alleged the movie was anti-Hindu. She finished production on the film in Sri Lanka.
Kari Skogland found out as much with her 2008 thriller 50 Dead Men Walking, when the real-life IRA mole on which she based her movie, Martin McGartland, disowned the film because he felt her big screen adaptation misrepresented his autobiography and tarnished his reputation.
Fundamentalists are just not comfortable with film directors, however much they wrap themselves up in higher causes, taking creative license to tell engaging stories based on historical events.
Which brings us back to Simon Lavoie and Mathieu Denis as they got set to screen Graves in Berlin.
The theatrical release of their historical film two weeks earlier in Quebec generated more off-screen drama for comfort.
“They reacted very angrily to the film#8221; Lavoie told me in Berlin as he recounted vandalized Graves posters outside theaters.
Inspired by massive student demonstrations in Quebec in 2012 over proposed tuition fee increases, Lavoie and Denis’ film portrays radicalized young Quebecois moving from vandalism to terrorism as they stir up chaos in Montreal to overthrow the government.
The Graves directors expected a possible backlash for seeking to glamourize radical militancy, or belittle it.
Instead, blowback from the theatrical release of the film, which mixes dramatisations of real events with archival footage, came from the former student militants portrayed in the film.
“They’re saying these characters are not us and they’re afraid we’re discrediting the student movement#8221; Lavoie observed.
The irony, he adds, is their violent backlash against the movie is very much in keeping with the four disillusioned radicals, played by Charlotte Aubin, Laurent Bélanger, Emmanuelle Lussier-Martinez and Gabrielle Tremblay, pose in one of the film’s unique plotting violent revolution in the three-hour movie.
“In the way they react, they are like our characters. They’re very bitter, they have a lot of energy, so they’re very passionate, I think they have anger in them that they can’t focus, and now they have focused it on our film#8221; Lavoie said.
Mathieu adds the former student militants are also reacting to Graves being blessed by the establishment after winning the best Canadian feature prize at Toronto, being named to TIFF’s Top Ten Films of 2016 list and receiving glowing reviews in major Montreal newspapers.
“These student groups, they think the great reviews and the (TIFF) award makes us suspect. It looks like we’ve been rehabilitated by the establishment#8221; he said.
A film about young people seeking political change in the streets did initially have a “punk attitude” shared by the directors, Mathieu recalled.
“Maybe the young people angry about the film accuse us of earning money making the film. We told them, ‘we paid to make the film,'” he countered about the low-budget affair.
The co-directors have sympathy for their film’s real-life characters.
“They’ve been militants. They’ve been on the streets, they’ve seen it has not given the results they sought#8221; Lavoie said.
Despite their disillusioned reaction to Graves, the directors insist they have a right to veer from the public record over the events of 2012 student protests.
“They touched us, but we want to be critics of the meaning they chose to solve their problems. Our film wants to ask questions and not to just give simple answers. We want to show the complexity of the situation#8221; Lavoie said.