By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

In the last interview I had with Canadian experimental filmmaker Rhayne Vermette, she was already outlining what would become her next project:

It’s an experimental narrative set upon a Métis settlement, I am Métis, my family comes from St. Norbert Manitoba and later settled around Richer and Ste. Anne.  Ste. Anne is the title of this film.

The plan is to shoot for about nine months, through the seasons in a sort-of meditative pace, working with actors, improvisationally with some kind of scripted stuff, we’ll be building a settlement, a place for me to revisit frequently. I’m very much interested in this site as the main character, but a matriarchal lineage is what enlivens this place.

This idea finally materialized in Ste. Anne (2021), Rhayne’s first feature film and also her first venture into narrative experimental fiction. Though she has kept alive very much what is the essence of her experimental work, in Ste. Anne there’s an expansion to her methods, her primal interests on the idea of deconstruction, the ruin as a seminal element that triggers her creative process and her own vital relation with the materiality of film. This is manifested through a connection that is expanded: if at first, Vermette’s work dealt with deconstruction of the subject, here, this element is transposed to the narrative structure of the film. This free flow of narrative and visual context only becomes a corporeal fiction through the same element that deconstructs it, resulting a curious paradox.

What we end up having is a film that serves itself from contingency: carefully composed scenes and a camera that also flows free, fragmented narration / improvisational dialogue and carefully chosen words with some moments that reminisce of her structural influence. It’s precisely the coexistence of contingency that gives this particular film its power, its presence in a liminal space somewhere between the carefully composed and the free flux of improvisational power. This also works in how Vermette works with hybrid genres, combining a traditional drama with a mystical or magical element, a presence that appears from the search of this identity allocated in a mythical being, a presence we can only gaze from a darkened place.

Hence the inherent tension that remains present in all works of Rhayne Vermette: this film works as an artifact of catharsis through a ritual of magic that permeates all the fiction, and it’s also the catalyst of disaster and unraveling. It’s particularly interesting how this works through Vermette’s mind, because the film also is very much in debt with one of its references: Win Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984) (with a complete homage in the figure of the protagonist walking on the bridge and the element of a photograph of an empty lot as symbolic piece for longing). If in both of Wenders’ and Vermette films, the element of conflict becomes embodied in its protagonist (Dean Staton in Wenders’ film, Vermette herself in Ste. Anne), here the resolution takes a different course through a different triggering event, precisely because what veers the filmmaker’s intention is this necessity of connecting with her ancestral lineage, her personal pathos and a particular energy that emanates through the landscape, places and characters which spills over a sense of danger and threat.

Supported by COUSIN, (a collective supporting indigenous artists formed by filmmakers Sky Hopinka, Adam Khalil, Alexandra Lazarowich and Adam Piron), Ste. Anne signals a promising new phase from Vermette, who has proven herself more than able to make the shift to narrative fiction with a particular dexterity, without losing the personal elements that makes her cinema so unique.

Berlinale Forum

Directed by Rhayne Vermette
With Isabelle d’Eschambault, Jack Theis, Valerie Marion, Dolorès Gosselin, Roger Vermette, Andrina Turenne, Denise Tougas, Yvette Deveau, Paulette Cooksey, Rhéanne Vermette