Biweekly Binge: Rupture in Manitoba in Rhayne Vermette’s Ste. Anne
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Ste. Anne
Rhayne Vermette’s Ste. Anne, playing in the Currents line-up of 59th New York Film Festival is a fragmented episode in the life of Renée (Rhéanne Vermette) and the Métis community she returns to after a long, unexplained absence. Ste. Anne is uninterested in events, it is more invested in faces and places, the Métis community in Manitoba. It examines the impact of Renée’s disappearance, leaving her daughter at a tender age and the effect of her return on the kid, her family and it reflects on all this through vignettes. The film, shot in 16mm, plays out in fits and starts, at once mysterious and inaccessible, morphing from one timeline to another, capturing a way of life within one indigenous community in Canada.
We get conversations and snippets without context – a priest’s heavy-handed attempt to force a couple to have another child, a funny anecdote involving a young person trying to learn English to communicate at the market, a montage of people at parties – eating or smoking – and Renée’s attempts to bond with her daughter. Vermette continues in this fashion throughout, rupturing with the film and the narrative, muting the colours and having fun with the contrasts often. We get no space to settle and no detail to piece, much like Renée who feels intrusive in her own backyard. Maybe that is the point Vermette is getting at with this story set within the Métis settlement. Renée and her family routinely look at photo albums and pick out people at random, identify the person in the photograph to give a factoid about them. At one point they are talking about their father, and we see a reflection of a man looking down on them, whether it is a ghostly image or simply a reflection of someone on the other side is for us to decide. But that is all it is. It is simply a portrait of a period of introspection in someone’s life and how it affects a close-knit community, a community indigenous to the land. As the film progresses, cracks get exposed – Renée’s brother and his partner, who parented Renée’s daughter when she fell off the radar, empathize with the strains on the child they considered their daughter, how it could all play in the child’s mind.
Though Ste. Anne pushes formal boundaries, the browsing of a photo album is nothing but a tiny leaf out of the film. We get randomized images one after another, and the evanescent aspect of the timelines is not lost on us. There is really only one traditional shot in the film with dialogues and movement and that too is a doozy. We see Renée working the plants outside through a window, a window one of them in the community is cleaning and they are making small talk. The woman steps out of the frame, and we stay with Renée as the woman enters the frame outside and begins cleaning the other side of the window and continues the conversation. There are several such shots, framed through windows – delineating the distance of the community from us and between them and Renée that has developed over the years of her absence. But it is all transparent even if the details could be as hazy as the visuals.