Art as archive of reality

Jacques Giraldeau isn’t coy on exploring the effects of art on the world for his own artistic endeavors. Blanc de mémoire, made in 1995, is an essay on the modern art world, whilst searching for clues of the existence of painter Évariste Quesnel. At the center of the text, as in his newest film L’ombre fragile des choses, lies a self-conscious communing process between the public and the confident artist.

Giraldeau, who has been making films with the NFB for over 50 years, is said to have used the medium for decades as a means to discuss art’s role in Quebec. In his new film, which is presented this week only at Ex-Centris, the effect of art on our mutual memory through found objects is linked with events in history.

In a cabin in the North, the filmmaker remembers his own history through a long-lost painting. Much of the interest in this film however, is in the found footage shot by legendary filmmaker Michel Brault. The images are the first of the cinéma vérité movement of the 50s and 60s in Quebec, which set out to explore society through the banality of everyday life.

The importance of this footage lies in that it precedes the Quiet Revolution. Today we might look at it differently because it is our society on the verge of a major transformation. Our subjectivity is therefore overwhelmed by historical events that have yet to happen in the time in which the images were filmed. Giraldeau notes the irony in the easy-going attitudes of the subjects filmed in the streets. In this way, he allows for the public to rethink history through a then-emerging film movement.

Later in his quest, he finds his aunt’s journal, which she kept for 21 years. We hear some passages from the text, entries dating during and after the First World War.

While Giraldeau produces pictures of this time passed, the text reads the story of a love lost in the War. Even if the romanticism is sometimes overwhelming, the poetic nature of the text never hinders the global tragedy at hand. The passages are frank and naive, in this way sharing the importance of the past events.

Today, the director’s own artistic senses have led him to explore the passage of time through natural settings. Time elapsing through a silent landscape is a common filmic device, but it is in the frailty of winter trees covered with ice that Giraldeau is able to get his point across. Art has a lasting nature that has an impact in time. It offers us today a window on the truth whose importance tomorrow is unquestionable.

At the end of L’ombre fragile des choses, through a letter by the ubiquitous Évariste Quesnel, Giraldeau shares the purpose of directing such a poetic, tender film. The voice reads “the essentials of life are poetry and love.”

Obviously, Giraldeau has taken that advice to heart in his film. For half a decade the director has yet to cease speaking on behalf of the arts, and the beauty with which he narrates that love justifies those intentions.


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