French-born Quebec helmer Arthur Lamothe’s “Silencing the Guns” is a p.c. expose of racist mistreatment of native Indians in Northeastern Quebee. Lamothe , best known for his documentaries on native society, presents a damning portrait of the province’s repressive attitude toward members of the First Nations community. But pic’s black-and-white politics put a damper on story’s dramatic development, and the result is a paint-by-numbers confrontation between nasty whites and downtrodden natives. “Silencing the Guns,” which opened commercially across Quebee on Aug. 30, is not likely to make a bang at the box office in French Canada but is destined to find more of a home on the small screen, both in Quebec and across Europe.
Lamothe’s film is inspired by the real-life mystery surrounding the death of two Montagnais Indians in the late ’70s. The deaths were ruled to be drowning accidents, but many natives in the region suspected that the men were murdered. Lamothe sets his drama in 1984 and builds it around the character of a marine biologist from France, Jean-Pierre Lafond (Jacques Perrin), who is visiting the Maliotenam reserve to study the local whale activity.
When the body of Salomon Ishpatau is discovered washed up on the beach, folks in the native community claim that there appeared to be bullet holes in his body. Roxane (Michele Audette), the secretary of the native group, becomes increasingly agitated because her brother Ulysse Lalo, who’s missing, was last seen hanging out with Salomon. Lafond befriends Roxane, and, strolling down the beach one day, they stumble across the bloodied corpse of Ulysse.
There is a simmering conflict between the whites and the natives over the latter’s fondness for salmon fishing without proper provincial licenses. Many Montagnais believe the white wardens shoot at renegade native fishermen on a regular basis, and most on the reserve are certain that Salomon and Ulysse were killed in such circumstances. Lafond, whose wife is back in Montreal, soon becomes romantically involved with Roxane, and together they begin their own investigation of the two suspicious deaths.
One of the problems with Lamothe and Jean Beaudry’s script is that all the whites, with the exception of Lafond, come off as caricatures of bumbling, racist clowns, while the native characters are presented as earthy and dignified. Under Lamothe’s curiously old-fashioned direction, events unfold in an all-too-predictable, somewhat plodding fashion.
Perrin, a veteran of Euro cinema, invests little energy in his performance, and he mostly looks perplexed as Lafond. Newcomer Audette has more spark as Roxane, conveying a refreshing blend of intelligence and sexiness. The rest of the cast, which is a mix of professional thesps and native amateurs, is uneven at best.
Roger Moride’s camerawork has captured the mysterious beauty of a landscape seldom seen in Quebec cinema, and one of pic’s highlights is the gritty, ultra-melodic folk-pop of Montagnais musical duo Kashtin, whose catchy native tunes are popular in Canada.