Francois Girard/ Canada / 2017 / 100 mins
As part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival
This film look at Quebecois history, specifically the history of Montreal, spanning two centuries and interlinking multiple narratives. The first involves an archaeological dig at a football stadium following the fatal discovery of a sinkhole. The second takes us to the revolution of 1837, where two French patriots seek refuge from a sympathetic landowner and are pursued by British Redcoats. The third concerns a 17th century romance between an Algonquin woman and a French trapper who is overcome by the plague, whilst the fourth tells of the discovery of Montreal by French explorers meeting the Iroquois leader of Hochelaga, the village on which the modern day city of Montreal was founded. The final narrative concerns a 13th century Iroquois chief praying for the dead following a woodland battle, with these prayers heard throughout the film.
Director Girard expertly intercuts between the narratives without losing coherence – he achieves this partly by presenting most of them as examples of the findings in the archaeological dig, providing a form of framing device that links them together. The narratives themselves also provide vivid depictions of the various aspects of Montreal’s history. The discovery of Hochelaga is convincingly depicted by the use of impressive CGI digital mattes to recreate the Iroquois village, whilst the 17th century and 1837 sequences also feature visually impressive moments – the most notable of which are an atmospheric gold-tinted sequence where the ill trapper is tended to by his Algonquin lover and a tense woodland chase involving a French soldier being pursued by Redcoats.
Girard also uses striking visual imagery throughout the film’s modern-day sequences to illustrate the equal importance of all of the narratives in contributing to the development of Quebec and Montreal. These include shots of 16th and 19th century soldiers charging across the football field along with contemporary football players and a final sequence showing each generation and nationality throughout the film’s history standing up in the spectator areas of the stadium.
Overall, Hochelaga provides a visually and narratively compelling overview of key moments in Quebec’s history that presents both European settlers and Indigenous tribes as equally contributing to the establishment of the nation.