Jongué, A Nomad’s Journey (Jongué, Carnet Nomade)
(Canada, 81 min.)
Dir. Carlos Ferrand
“I wished to make a film like a pop-up book,” said director Carlos Ferrand of his eighth feature film, Jongué, A Nomad’s Journey (Jongué, Carnet Nomade). If this was Ferrand’s objective, he has succeeded, and then some. His film examining the life and work of Serge Jongué uses scrapbook-like imagery to represent the many layers of the prolific writer-photographer. There is a playful, cut-and-pasted visual variety to the doc that reflects the multifaceted nature of Jongué and his work without undermining the serious struggles at the heart of it all.
Jongué was born to a Polish mother and a Guyanese father in Aix-en-Provence, France. His identity as a mixed-race person made his relationship to colonialism extremely complex, a central theme in his work. Candid photographs of Jongué’s mother, who died prematurely, and who Jongué felt especially close to, haunt the film. Another recurring motif is that of the artist’s half-brother, born in modern day Vietnam, who died tragically before he and Jongué could ever meet. His brother’s last moments involved a camera, which further propelled Jongué towards photography as a medium. As a part of the pop-up book-like texture of the film, Jongué’s actual camera collection makes appearances throughout the film, at times dancing animated across the screen.
Family photos take up a lot of space in the film–about as much as questions of origin and ancestry took up space in Jongué’s artwork and mind. But the film’s ultimate objective is to showcase Jongué’s body of work, and it does, like an oscillating exhibit of the screen. The film’s narration is composed of Jongué’s writings stitched together, with the English version voiced by Caribbean poet Christian Campbell as a nod to Jongué’s time spent in Martinique. Jongué’s work grapples with questions of identity, origin, immigration, and colonization, which is perhaps inevitable, as he spent his life exploring much of the French-colonized world that he both did and didn’t call home.
The film is one of many at RIDM that has deep roots in the city of Montreal. It was when Jongué moved to Montreal in the 1970s that he became fully able to hone his craft and explore his painful and tangled origins. Jongué created a massive breadth of work in Montreal, as a photographer and writer for Vie des Arts magazine and as a photographer for the Federation of Quebec Workers. Jongué documented the humanity of Montreal’s immigrants and working class for much of his working life. The film, which at times drags its feet, demands your attention once Jongué’s photographic portfolio begins to unfold in the latter half of the film.
With audiences riding high on the discovery of such a brilliant little-known Montreal-based artist, their joy turns to sadness as it’s revealed that Jongué died prematurely in 2006. The final image of the film is that of a melting, turquoise-blue camera, so unusual-looking that it lingers long after you leave the theatre. Jongué, A Nomad’s Journey has done all you can ask of a film of its kind in revealing the work of an artist with nuance, grace and a rich visual texture.
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