Documentaries may record quotidian reality but, at their best, they aspire to poetry. There’s an image in Pour la suite du monde, a film made by the poet, director and unrecognised cultural anthropologist Pierre Perrault and his brilliant cinematographer and co-director Michel Brault, which achieves the clarity and vision of truly transcendent cinema. The shot is of three men in a boat, silhouetted against a grey sky and vast expanse of water, surrounded by wooden poles. The upright spirit of these shadowy figures, attempting to wrest control from forces beyond them, is as readily apparent as are the elements—the sea, the trees—enclosing them.
In Pour la suite du monde, the audience gets to know these people, the denizens of Île-aux-Coudres, a small island in the St. Lawrence River. It was in 1962 when Perrault and Brault came to make a documentary about them and their locale, an island lost in time. Their language is an ancient form of French: even “coudre,” which meant hazelnut tree, has been replaced by “noisetier” in modern parlance. Using his famous direct cinema approach, Brault captures town meetings and social get-togethers where the aging population engages in banter and dances to old tunes played by fiddlers, a stand-up bass and piano.
It’s clear that the past motivates the islanders, who seem trapped by a cycle of rural poverty. (One oldster reads from Jacques Cartier’s diary to ascertain exactly when and why he named the place Île-aux-Coudres back in 1535.) A solution to the islanders’ spiritual and economic malaise is proposed by Perrault and Brault—to revive the ancient practice of beluga trapping. For centuries, the islanders had captured beluga whales by luring them into areas near the land, which are surrounded by saplings growing in the water. Although Catholics, the people of the Île have a spiritual belief in the powers of the moon and the tides. It was usually on moonlit nights when the tide was good that the gentle belugas would be trapped by seemingly innocuous young trees.
Led by the colourful Tremblay family, the beluga hunt is successful enough to revive the spirit of the island. This beautifully made film was the first Canadian feature to play at Cannes and it won film of the year at the Canadian Film Awards.
Watch Pour la suite du monde below!