This latest feature from seasoned National Film Board of Canada documaker Jacques Godbout is a wryly amusing, ironic look at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, an 18th century clash between British and French forces that is considered one of the defining events in Canadian history. The charm of Godbout’s pic is that it is anything but a straight documentary: The filmmaker has hooked up with well-known Quebec playwright Rene-Daniel Dubois (“Being at Home with Claude”), and together they have constructed what they call a fictional documentary that tackles the fallout from this historic colonial shootout.
“The Fate of America” will strike a chord with Canadians on both sides of the linguistic divide, but pic will likely reach them via the tube and video since National Film Board theaters are no longer operational. There might be some European and U.S. interest as well, but film’s international career will be restricted by non-Canadians’ lack of knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the bloody skirmish on the cliffs of Quebec City.
Godbout, who narrates the pic and appears in it, and Dubois start by heading to London to meet a descendent of Gen. Wolfe, the British military leader who led his forces to a surprise victory over the French in Quebec on Sept. 13, 1759 . They catch up with Andrew Wolfe-Burroughs in a London gallery, where he’s performing in a blues-rock band. Young man is also a TV journalist with the BBC, and one of the funnier moments has him delivering a TV news report chronicling the events on the Plains of Abraham. Wolfe-Burroughs, who speaks French, talks critically about Britain’s history of colonial conquest.
Then it’s off to the South of France to chat with Le Baron Georges de Marestan, who is directly descended from Gen. Montcalm, the French commander who died in defeat in Quebec City in 1759. The modern-day Montcalm is shown re-building his ancestral home, and the rather eccentric character tells Godbout he believes France should reinstate the monarchy.
Next, the globe-trotting Godbout and Dubois head back to Quebec, where they conduct interviews with a couple of historians and screen an old National Film Board docudrama that re-enacts the battle.
Throughout, Dubois delivers a string of off-the-wall monologues on the history of Quebec that are part philosophy and part burlesque. Dubois’ comic turns help keep the tone light, and his quirky personality dominates the pic.
More than 200 years after the battle, which effectively gave control of Canada to the British, French-English tensions continue to simmer across the country, and the strength of Godbout’s fictional documentary is that he manages to craft a thought-provoking discussion of this key moment in Canuck history without sacrificing the witty, easygoing feel of the pic.
Francois Dompierre’s score is used sparsely but effectively to underscore the ironies of the material, and Jean-Pierre Lachapelle’s camerawork provides verite-like snapshots of central London, rural southern France and picturesque Quebec City.