Cheltenham International Film Festival 2020: Antigone Review

So for the final film I chose to see from the 2020 Cheltenham International Film Festival I wanted to go for another foreign language film and, having a look at what was available to stream, this is the one that stood out to me the most. The plot synopsis provided was intriguing and the acclaim it received from the Canadian film scene raised my interest. The film itself I found to be the best of the three films I watched as part of this festival.

Taking place in Quebec the film follows the Hipponome’s, a family of refugees from Kabylia living in Quebec. The head of the family is Meni, who raises her grandchildren, Etecole, Polynice, Ismene and Antigone, after their parents were killed. We see that, whilst Antigone is a model student and has good prospects for gaining Canadian citizenship, Polynice is involved with gangs. One night, unrelated to gang activity, Eteocle is killed by the police and Polynice arrested after assaulting an officer in the aftermath, with Polynice’s criminal record meaning that he will likely be deported. Fearing for Polynice’s safety, Antigone disguises herself as Polynice to get him out of prison, starting a complicated legal scenario for Antigone. Now I know the film is inspired by the Ancient Greek tragedy Antigone, but as I am unfamiliar with the play I won’t be making any comparisons here, but I thought it was worth mentioning. What works about the film is how timely it feels with everything that’s going on with the world, not just with police brutality but also with showing the lives of refugees and there being a cyclical nature to refugees as they move from country to country. Throughout the film we see the difficulties faced by the Hipponome family, from the pitfalls that they face in acquiring Canadian citizenship to the lack of opportunity afforded to refugees and even the language barrier and cultural differences, even after spending several years in a different country. This is best seen with Meni who still respects the cultural values of her home country, when those attitudes do not have the same context in Canada, and the issues that come with her not being able to speak French and how many issues this creates in a legal system which operates entirely in French. We also get a good understanding of how the media can be used to build support for people. Throughout Antigone’s trial, social media is used both in the courtroom to disrupt proceedings and outside to build support for Antigone and her family and the film does a great job at showing how successful these actions are.

The performances in the film add to the power it has. Nahema Ricci is brilliant as Antigone showing her intelligence in formulating the plan to save her brother, but also her naivety in how the system works. She thinks that, as a first time offender with a good academic record she’ll be let off, not realising the true extent of the punishment she could face and how much danger she’s put her family in, everything being believable for someone her age. The love Antigone has for her family is also well executed from Ricci, showing a clear devotion, making you understand why she was willing to risk everything to save Polynice which also shows the compassion she has, working well with another theme of the film in how clinical and cold the Canadian care system is. It is a delicate performance to pull off but Ricci nails it. The rest of the performances from Rawad El-Zein, Rachida Oussaada, Nour Belkhiria, Antoine Desrochers and Paul Dochet are great as well, adding to the wider context of the film and each adding to the thematic depth of the film.

The technical elements are also strong, adding to the environment of the film. In this instance I want to focus on the use of colour and the editing. Throughout the film, we see that the image used to drum up support for Antigone is of her painted in red, and as the film goes on we see the red used more and more as support for Antigone grows, including people cutting and dying their hair red to show support on a physical level and showing how the body can be used as a form of protest and solidarity. The editing meanwhile has a few points focusing on the social media elements of Antigone’s trial, making it feel believable for social media through the use of pictures and the changing text on them showing the different attitudes towards Antigone. This also acts as a modern day Greek chorus, tying the film back to its roots as a Greek tragedy.

Overall, Antigone is a powerful film that reflects the attitudes people have towards refugees and the difficulties they face in the legal system. Every element of the film acts as a critique towards the Canadian government and the way people are reduced to the basic fundamentals of their lives, which can be applied to other countries throughout the world. Every element of the film can be seen throughout the world, making it a timely and important film for the moment.

My Rating: 4.5/5

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