In Ste. Anne, Rhayne Vermette strives to imbue narrative filmmaking with as much tangible texture as possible, even if that means freely disrupting said narrative while still maintaining a semblance of a linear progression. Even in its most ostensibly, diegetically realist passages, the chronicle of a family of Francophones of the Indigienous Métis Nation is brought forth with intriguing languidness, more intent on acclimating the viewer to the rhythm of the life onscreen than its actual formal specifics. Amidst the prickly family dynamics — Renée (Rhéanne Vermette) has returned to the rural family home after a long spell; her brother, Modeste (Jack Theis), still lives there with his wife, and the two are raising Renée’s daughter — Vermette inserts durational landscape shots and documentary-like, fireside conversations, which help to ease into some of the more unabashed experimentation. Ste. Anne assumes a handspun quality when it defers to explicit visual acknowledgements of its filmic being: handheld camera, scratches and frayed edges, blooming colors.
Vermette’s storytelling vernacular is perhaps a degree too noncommittal, but that doesn’t impede upon how astonishingly visual Ste. Anne is: its 16mm photography is the perfect conduit for all the natural beauty of the Manitoba backdrop. There’s a light surrealism at play, which invades not just the aforementioned digressions, but even the most earthbound of sequences. Low lit and sumptuous, many scenes unspool as if on an illusory soundstage, certain frames articulated as if Guy Maddin were suddenly behind the camera. All these aesthetic branches and tangents could act as distancing effects, but Vermette instead prioritizes closeness, striving for a new cinematic vernacular to depict intimacy beyond just the interaction of the actors.
Published as part of NYFF 2021 — Dispatch 3.