Clearly inspired by the violent land dispute that shook up Quebec in the summer of 1990, Montreal helmer Robert Morin’s “Windigo” is an intelligent, thought-provoking look at the strained relations between white Canadians and the country’s original inhabitants. Morin’s first pic, “Requiem pour un beau sans-coeur,” was a fest favorite, winning the best Canadian feature prize at the 1992 Toronto event and screening as part of Critics’ Week in Cannes. “Windigo” is likely to repeat that success on the fest circuit.
But Morin’s supportive stance toward first-nation gripes may temper pic’s B.O. performance in French Canada, where the population has been generally unsympathetic to native demands. “Windigo” opens commercially in Quebec in late October. Outside Canada, this nuanced political potboiler is more likely to find a home in specialized theatrical settings and on the small screen.
Renegade native leader Eddy Laroche (Donald Morin) sparks a political crisis in Canada when he holes up in a remote region of northern Quebec and unilaterally declares the independence of the Aki territory. Most of the action takes place on board a dilapidated old ship, the Pickle, which is carrying a group of government and native negotiators up the river to meet with Laroche and his tribe of rebels.
But Laroche has also demanded that a TV crew accompany the group, and much of the story is told from the p.o.v. of cynical veteran TV reporter Jean Fontaine (Guy Nadon), who feels he’s drawn the short straw with this assignment in the northern wilderness.
Fontaine and his cameraman begin a series of interviews with the people on the boat, as the journalist tries to understand the roots of the native insurrection, and it quickly becomes clear to Fontaine that the 30-second news byte isn’t adequate to capture the complexities of the issue.
By the time they reach the rebel camp, the journalist is having great difficulty maintaining his usual, objective distance from the story he’s covering, and the classic media quandary is at the heart of this subtle pic.
“Windigo” falters somewhat with a finale that borrows too heavily and obviously from “Heart of Darkness”/”Apocalypse Now” territory, with Laroche as the crazed Kurtz character who’s gone off the deep end. Also, some thesps don’t deliver the goods. Nadon is completely believable as the troubled journalist, but some members of the supporting cast — particularly Morin as the native leader — don’t seem up to expressing the complexities of their characters.
All tech credits are first-rate, especially cinematographer James Gray’s mix of scenic film footage and grainier video images for the TV interviews.