The Voyageurs

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 28, 2015

Peter Watkins before Peter Watkins. Werner Herzog before Werner Herzog! The Film Board’s celebrated City of Gold (1957, q.v.) did something similar with photographs. Here it’s live action, but the results are basically the same, and they are important to the point of incalculation. The reenactment or dramatization technique used in The Voyageurs extends the range of the documentary film to before film’s invention.

Documentary? You bet—there they are, in that beautiful craft, straining those same shoulders and traversing those same distances. And it’s not just traveling, but staying put too. The things these en/actors do at camp are wonderfully, successfully salvage ethnographic. There’s an interesting double narration operating too.  First, making an introduction and drawing a conclusion, there’s a Film Board guy. This gives way to a period narration, drawn from the record of an actual participant. So well chosen, and well executed. Does this not only reflect the 19th century, but the 1960s too? It’s a Scotsman narrating here, not only describing the actions of his French Canadian fellows, but also passing moral judgment upon them. That judgment is quite sniffy, dismissive. Not quite deux nations! The contemporary viewer is invited to understand that attitude at the same time that she can see its gaps and cracks.

The results of all of this material, all of these potentially or actually contradictory perspectives, is so clear, so generous, so hopeful! I submit: this craftsman’s, photographical, defiantly and delightfully educational approach to film is superior to all and everything else. Some climax! Amazing p.o.v. shots, and then that actual thing actually happens. See it, and savour the amazement and appreciation that follow: