Angelique’s Isle

By: Trevor Chartrand

Canadian films have the unfortunate reputation for being ‘bad’ or ‘poorly produced,’ and as much as it hurts to admit, the generalization tends to be accurate.  That’s certainly the case with the latest film from directors Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Michelle Derosierand.  Angelique’s Isle tells the true story of a First Nations woman and her wilderness survival during the copper rush of the late 1800s.

What’s most distracting in this particular film is the heavy-handed and overbearing message it pushes to convey.  The film is sloppily written with significantly watered-down production values, which makes for a fairly mundane viewing experience.  Watching this film is essentially the same as watching a feature-length heritage minute.

For a true story, the script suffers from a surprising lack of character depth and development.  Angelique Mott (Julia Jones) is a very simple character who spends at least fifty percent of the film wandering the woods looking for food – there’s nothing much more to her than that.  Stranded on an island, she’s starving and cold and misses her family.  This is undoubtedly a sad true story, but the performances and the script fail to ground her character and her plight enough to get any empathy from the audience.  The film feels purely observational and emotionless – disconnected like a scientist watching their lab subject.

To the filmmaker’s credit, dialogue is used sparsely and a great deal of the film is told visually.  However, the lack of characterization in the film makes for a movie populated by abstract, vague semblances of people who barely talk.  The filmmakers have decided to make a plot-driven movie here, but forgot to add enough intrigue to keep the story – the entire thrust of the film – interesting.

From the opening frame, the time period is also set poorly, with the character’s clothing and general look being too fresh and too clean-cut.  Period outfits are pristine, clean and colorful.  Beards are trimmed and hair is styled.  The lower class are so unbelievably well-groomed that it becomes difficult to take them seriously as suffering third class citizens.

The same can be said for Angelique during her months of suffering, starving on the island.  A few patches of dirt on her clothes are the only indication of her plight.   Angelique’s Isle feels watered down, shying away from the true pain and suffering she would have most likely encountered.  Visually, a much more intense and authentic approach to her pain would have made for a much more engaging and visceral experience.

The true story of Angelique Mott is a sad reminder of some of the darkest chapters in Canadian history.  This film does not do the event justice, with its soft-around-the-edges approach and on-the-nose message.  Skirting around the story to keep a PG-rating doesn’t do the characters any favors here, and the film truly suffers as a result.  A documentary about this event may have been a more informative, and likely a more engaging way to tell this girl’s tragic story.


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