With a 37-year career behind him, André Forcier is one of the more veteran directors represented in the Santa Barbara Film Festival‘s Quebecois Cinema strand, with his strange autobiographical tale of union unrest, marital jealousy, grief and national liberation in a remote snow-covered mining community in 1949. It’s entitled, Je me souviens (“I remember”).
Shot appropriately in wintery black and white (the first credit is for “Images”) it’s partially narrated by Louis, the child of the socialist workers’ leader Bob. Bob is up against genial Richard, a “bonus man”, in the forthcoming union election, but when the latter suffers a tragic domestic accident his widow, Mathilde reacts schemingly to the rumours that she deliberately murdered him.
We then abruptly flash forward nine years. Just as the union dispute is hardly the focus of the first half, the conviction of Irish sweepstake man Liam never returning home while the British are still there is significant to the action and narrative by implication only. Fun is certainly had throughout, mocking the capitalist, besotted mine owner, his ridiculous blind sister, and the fat limping priest but it’s less a tub to thump than of a piece with the story’s plentiful oddball moments: there’s midnight tap-dancing at the telephone exchange (though the absurdity turns out to have a rather painful purpose) and Mathilde’s daughter Némésis. She’s a rather funny self-possessed little girl, who turns out to be a natural at Gaelic, having spoken not a word of anything for the first nine years of her life.
Elsewhere, orphans are amusingly put to work in the mine to sway the capitalist vote and are casually disposed of. One is even found in the snow-covered woods devoured by wolves. The film exhibits a particular and enthusiastic sexuality, the presence of kids, exploitation and backwards reasoning proving no obstacle; desire and jealousy drive the narrative rather more than the politics of the mine.
If this all sounds a bit Guy Maddin, it sort of is, but the film retains a distinct individuality and an unfussy aesthetic, and follows its own eccentric path with some witty cutting and not a hint of pastiche. Despite some appealing playing the characters cannot quite shed a storybook feel, but Louis is recounting his life rather like the storybooks he enjoys to hear read (the film opens on this). Thus, like all films purporting to be reminiscent or those that simply make a virtue of their eccentricity, Je me souviens stands or falls on the strength and appeal of its personality and humour, and for the most part it stands.