By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/14/17 – Yesterday at the A.F.I. Film Festival in Hollywood, I saw HOCHELAGA: LANDS OF SOULS (“Hochelaga terre des âmes,” 2017), a Canadian historical drama film directed and written by François Girard. HOCHELAGA dramatizes several centuries of Quebec history and the local history of Montreal, in a story that follows two Quebec archaeologists revealing the past of indigenous peoples, early French explorers and 1837 rebels. In the film, Mohawk archaeologist Baptiste Asigny engages in a search for his ancestors following a tragic terrain sink-hole in the Percival Molson Stadium at McGill University, which sits at the base of the mountain “Mont Real,” after which Montreal takes its French name given to it by Jacques Cartier.
Director François Girard said the project grew out of his “tremendous affection for Montreal” and a desire to portray it more in-depth than in his 1998 feature THE RED VIOLIN. Girard remarked “I grew more and more interested in showing where I live, and pay tribute to the ancestors who lived there before us.” Girard conceived of the story as “spatially extremely limited,” and about “waves of immigration,” beginning with depictions of Iroquois and Algonquins, and later the French, English and Irish. HOCHELAGA was shot in Montreal, with performances in numerous languages. The film has been selected as the Canadian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards
Historic episodes that inspired the story included the explorations of Jacques Cartier in 1535, the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion and 1944 operations in the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. Other incidents, such as the 1267 battle and the Iroquois prophet played by Trujillo, were invented. The project required performances in French, English, Mohawk, Algonquin, Latin and Arabic. Native leader Dominique Rankin served as a consultant. Other historical research required included a study on the evolution of the French language. The film looks at the history of Canada by zeroing in on one part of the country the size of a football field. HOCHELAGA explores a sinkhole that gorges the Molson Stadium at Montreal’s McGill University and tragically swallows one of the football team’s star players (Roman Blomme) in its wake. The rare occurrence becomes a research opportunity even rarer for restless archaeology student Baptiste Asigny (Samian), who excavates the site in search of evidence of the Iroquois village of Hochelaga where Jacques Cartier (played by Vincent Perez) and the Iroquois are believed to have made contact in 1535.
The film spans from the pre-contact years to present day, and the expansive scope of the film puts Canada’s settler history under the microscope. The souls of the Iroquois haunt the land with a breathtaking narrative that Girard intercuts throughout the film and shows Hochelaga with the original inhabitants of the territory. This sequence features an Iroquois prophet (Raoul Trujillo) guiding the lone survivor of a bloody battle that leaves many bodies scattered around the land. The sole living warrior from the fight is Asigny (again played by Samian) who receives the elder’s wisdom that this land should not be one of war, battle, and violence.