Antigone (Sophie Deraspe, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Jaclyn Bruneau 

Sophie Deraspe has picked up Sophocles’ eponymous tragedy and hurled it headlong into the present. Our orphaned heroine (Nahéma Ricci) immigrated to Montréal (from a home country never stated, in what is, I suppose, an attempt to level all Canadian immigrant experiences) as a child, along with her grandmother Ménécée, sister Ismène, and brothers Étéocle and Polynice. The latter two, tangled up in gang activity, find themselves in a sudden altercation while playing jacks in a schoolyard. When Polynice is thrown to the ground by cops, Étéocle rushes toward him and is promptly shot, leading Polynice to allegedly assault an officer. 

When the kindly politician father (Paul Doucet) of Antigone’s long-haired crush (Antoine Desrochers) arrives at their small rental apartment to offer access to his lawyer friends—communicating the threat that Polynice, if charged, may be subject to extradition—Ménécée loses her shit. For some reason, this emotional outburst does not dovetail into deeper relations with the man offering help, but instead to a crackpot plan devised by Antigone and assisted by Ménécée to swap places with her brother during a visit to his pre-trial detention centre—a twist that serves the material’s melodramatic roots while simultaneously alluding to a sustained systemic critique. 

At its most moving, Antigone is a display of fortitudinous family loyalty, resilience in the face of bureaucratic alienation, and impressive teenage sagacity. (Though admittedly, the numerous close-ups of Ricci’s face quickly begin to feel heavy-handed—we get it, she’s beautiful, smart, and self-sacrificing!) However, at several points, the cinematographic world is ruptured by what seems like amateurishly composed hip-hop music videos or call-to-action campaigns, replete with super-fast cuts and blobby, inane linework scrawled over the images, which feels like a contrived attempt at hipness. While rigorously attuned to today’s political landscape in many ways, the film also indulges the ubiquity of sensationalist news, plain-faced social justice warriorism, and internet infamy in ways that give a seemingly unintended shrillness to its intended effect.

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