Review: ‘Belle- Île-en-Mer’

Doc screens Cinéfranco on Oct. 10

4 mins read

Belle- Île-en-Mer
(Canada, 26 min.)
Dir. Phil Comeau

The Acadians in the Maritimes have a rich culture and legacy, but one wouldn’t know it from the way we discuss Canadian history. Director Phil Comeau (Ron Turcotte, jockey légendaireLe secret de Jérôme) offers a touching and personal portrait of the oft-overlooked Acadian culture that charts back long before Canada’s confederation and endures today. Screening at Toronto’s Cinéfranco, the doc will be of special interest to Hot Docs audiences who savoured the slice of Acadiana in Samara Chadwick’s 1999. While 1999 focuses on a contemporary tragedy, Comeau’s film offers a heartfelt excavation of the rich cultural history of Acadian culture that suffuses Chadwick’s doc. Belle-Île-en-Mer chronicles the survival of Acadian spirit by offering a portrait of families on either side of the pond as they make pilgrimages to retrace the Acadian diaspora and discover roots and relatives along the way. The documentary is a touching and picturesque portrait of one of the many distinct cultures within Canada’s diverse landscape.

Comeau frames the film around the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Acadians in Belle-Île-en-Mer, an island off the Brittany coast of France. Maryvonne Le Gac, President of the Association Belle-Île-Acadie, takes Comeau on a tour of her ancestors’ homes and situates their journey within the larger history of Acadian migration. Le Gac gives an incredibly concise account of the history of the deportation of Acadians from the New World and their long, difficult journey being displaced to new colonies and France, the latter of which provided a site for renewal on Belle-Île-en-Mer. The mix of personal and collective history contextualizes the chorus of voices that follow as Acadians speak openly and proudly about immersing themselves in their culture, history, and community.

The emphasis on interviews, or oral storytelling, provides a natural complement to the beautiful scenery of New Brunswick and Belle-Île-en-Mer. The cinematography by Stéphane Mauger evokes the natural allure of the Acadian landscape while taking in the historical roots of the community that endures in its buildings and architecture.

Comeau, who was born in the Acadian community of Baie Sainte-Marie and edited the collection of essays Acadie Then and Now, appreciates the significance of this anniversary. The doc favours the unity Acadian culture, rather than the history of their ancestors’ dispersal, and the talking heads format contributes an anthology of stories of its own as Acadians from different generations, regions, and walks of life find common roots and shared histories. There is an outpouring of emotion and a strong sense of community, and one that is bound to leave an impact with audiences whose own stories of dislocation and belonging echo those heard in the film. It’s a valuable portrait of community and identity.

Belle- Île-en-Mer screens at Cinéfranco on October 10 at the Carlton Cinema at 7:00 PM.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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