Tuesday, May 03, 2011

St-Henri, The 26th of August, A Long Day Indeed

St-Henri, The 26th of August

Back in 1962 a group of filmmakers, including Claude Jutra, Michel Brault, Don Owen and Arthur Lipsett, documented one day in the life of a working-class neighbourhood in St-Henri, Montreal. 50 years later, on the 26 August, 16 new filmmakers decided to continue the trend and document how the neighbourhood has evolved over the years.

While the film strives to capture reality in the same cinematic form as the 1962 directors did, the results are not as compelling as you would expect. Which is why St. Henri, the 26th of August was rather disappointing. The documentary does a good job of showing they wide array of people that inhabit St-Henri but the film never gets deeper than the surface level of both neighbourhood and the subjects they follow.

Besides the clear divide between the rich and the poor, and the fact that the locals love the neighbourhood and the outsiders view it as a ghetto, there is not much else we really learn about St. Henri that would set it apart from any other neighbourhood in a large city. The shocking thing is that the documentary has a wealth of interesting people they really could have explored in greater depth.

Whether it is the woman on welfare, who gets the most screen time, who survived four years in prison, the young gay native-Canadian who struggles with the way his culture is viewed by others, or the woman who finds pleasure in scouring the sewer system at night. There is no shortage of stories that could have really been fleshed out in the film. While this would obviously cut down the amount of people featured in the film, it is still more satisfying to get to know five individuals and their relationship with St. Henri than it is to briefly follow 12 to 15 different people.

The film does have some strong moments as the directors find a way to incorporate a little humour into the film. Part of this has to do with some of inspired individuals they decide to follow. Plus, as was mention earlier, the film is wonderful to look at. Even the poorer section of St. Henri look just was lush as the posh areas. Had the filmmakers focused on less individuals, St. Henri, The 26th of August would have been a much stronger documentary. In addition, the film’s pacing would not plod along as it currently does. As it stands, the film feels like an Altman film that introduces a bunch of characters but never really provides any substance to them or the place they all call home.

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