by Hope Madden
Any deep dive into the day-to-day realities of asylum seekers and the racism they face can end in horror (His House) or tragedy. Sophie Deraspe’s Antigone takes the second path, obviously.
Though the story is thoroughly updated, Deraspe keeps the ancient Greek names for her Algerian family living in Quebec. Antigone (Nahéma Ricco) also retains the strength and rebellious nature of the heroine created more than 2500 years back.
In the original story, two brothers died in battle. One died a hero because he fought on the side that won, so he receives a hero’s burial. Because the other brother fought with the rebels, his body is left to rot in the sun.
His sister doesn’t care what her brothers have done, her responsibility to them as family requires that she risk her own future to do what she believes is right.
An imaginative reworking of the Sophocles play, Deraspe’s drama still sees one sister challenging institutions to do what’s right by her family.
Ricco astounds in the title role. Her fiery grace impresses, especially as her physical performance flows effortlessly from wide-eyed searching to crumbling vulnerability to straight-spined resolve. She develops a timeless quality for the heroine, a conscience rooted in some primal virtue.
The cast around her matches her step for step, and as Deraspe subverts tropes and expectations, her performers rise to the challenge. Rawad El-Zein is especially powerful in the role of frustrating brother Polynice, and both Antoine DesRochers and Paul Doucet excel as the filmmaker finds new directions to take very old characters.
Deraspe’s film explores institutional hatred, justice versus family loyalty, and the nature of heroism. It’s a powerful look at generational, religious and cultural fractures. It’s a beautifully written and executed reworking of an all-time classic.
More than anything, it is a singular performance that demands attention and respect.