Staging a Crisis
Although the French-Canadian separatist movement of the 1970s and the production of a Noh play in Osaka, Japan, may seem like very disparate, not to mention esoteric, events to overlap in a film, Robert Lepage's Nô is, in the end, a satire on the universal frailties of man and his politics. As Quebec's most celebrated director (Jesus of Montreal), Lepage has been an active supporter of the cause and plight of French Canadians; but his third major release shows the humor and, at times, futility of this revolution. Nô cuts back and forth between a Canadian acting troupe struggling to put on a farce at the World's Fair in Osaka in 1970, and inept "guerrillas" of the Quebec Liberation Front during what was known as the October Crisis. The actions of that group did eventually bring political life to a halt in Canada, prompting Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to declare what was in effect martial law, but here we see the revolutionaries as silly academics, as "pot-smoking philosophers who wanted to place a bomb somewhere without a clue as to what they were doing," according to Lepage. The men try to put together a bomb, and a grammatically correct proclamation, in a Montreal apartment (filmed in black and white), while in Japan the players feebly go through the motions of acting (in color). The lead actress Sophie (Anne-Marie Cadieux) finds out she is pregnant, by the group leader (Alexis Martin) back in Montreal no less, gets depressed, and sleeps with the Canadian ambassador (Richard Frechette); and so real life in the film becomes a farce as well. The interpreter (Marie Brassard) in Japan is another character who walks the line of the personal as political: She was blinded in Hiroshima, a reminder that the 1970 Osaka fair also marked the 25th anniversary of the end of World War II and the dropping of the first atomic bombs. But in what it could be an optimistic signal for the next century, Nô gave Lepage his biggest award yet: He won Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival -- that's the English-speaking Toronto.
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