Canadian Front,” MOMA’s inaugural installment in an annual tribute to the cinema of the northern lights, is an almost too well-rounded portrait of Canadian regional and communal diversity. Witness the vicissitudes of small-town West Coast family life in Keith Behrman’s auspicious, delicate debut, the Ratcatcher-lite Flower and Garnet; suburban, sequestered Montreal yahooism in the toothless populism of Louis Bélanger’s Gaz Bar Blues; downtown Toronto seniors literally gasping their last breaths in cinema verité pioneer Allan King’s Dying at Grace.
Notwithstanding the showstopping opener, Guy Maddin’s Winnipeg Depression-era musical melodrama The Saddest Music in the World, the highlight is the fifth feature from Québecois actor-playwright-director Robert Lepage, the still distributor-less The Far Side of the Moon. Lepage’s best feature since his masterful debut, The Confessional, the film is likewise set in his hometown of Quebec City, but rather than overloading Hitchcock references, he offers up a sly, semi-autobiographical lesson in astronomical history. Employing plenty of his signature seamless pans across time and space—how this was once a one-man stage play is unimaginable—Lepage lyrically fuses childhood memories with present-day sibling rivalry, archival footage with high-definition video.
Far Side is also the first time he’s directed himself—as brothers to boot. As academic-slash-telemarketer Philippe, the portly director is a sad sack extraordinaire, barely able to deal with his mother’s recent death and the obliviousness of the scientific community to his Tsiolkovsky-influenced theories about the ego-driven nature of the space race. As the gay, well-to-do André, whose contribution to local culture is meteorology, Lepage sports a goatee, appears slimmer, and seems to be the source of Philippe’s harebrained hypotheses. But Lepage reveals both brothers to be equally obstinate and patiently brings the two mirror-image narcissists in line, like planets on parallel orbits. The director spins a rich, moving film that acknowledges humanity’s power to break out of daily gravity; in the process, he leaves audiences floating.