Confessions of a ﬁlm director
Robert Lepage is no stranger to the Scottish theatre scene, but now the Canadian director has turned his talent to the cinema. Alan Morrison hears the secrets of The
C ()Irfess'uma/ .
"There is a connection between Scotland and Quebec.‘ says acclaimed theatre director Robert Lepage. ‘something that seems a bit tnore natural than Quebec and France or Scotland and English Canada. There's an affinity. we have common points in our culture. and I always feel very comfortable in Scotland. (ilasgow and Edinburgh have the same kind of clash as Montreal and Quebec City. There‘s a parallel there: our two societies seem to echo each other.‘
Over the past few years. Lepage has brought all his major theatre pieces to Scotland. Need/es Am! Opium was his contribution to l‘)‘)5's Mayfest. with Strindbcrg's A Dream l’lay following a couple of weeks later at the Tramway. the site of his l‘)‘)() masterpiece 'I‘et-Imu'c l’la/es. At the Edinburgh international Festival he made his opera debut in l‘)()3 with the double bill of Bluebean/ir Castle and [irwaruuze brought the ‘work in progress' Seven Streams ()f'l‘lte River ()m in WW and returns this August with [Elsi/zine. a solo work that develops Ham/er for the technological age.
Robert Lepage: ‘Am I North American or am I European?’
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The Contesslonal: ‘an intricate piece that operates on many levels’
Lepage‘s stagecraft has often been described as cinematic. so it should come as no surprise that he has now turned his attention to the big screen. The Cari/essuma/ is an intricate piece that operates on many levels. binding a young Quebec man‘s quest for his own identity and his unknown father with ﬂashbacks to I952. the year that Alfred Hitchcock came to the city to shoot I (imam with Montgomery Clift. For Lepage. who usually draws his actors into a collaborative writing process early in the project. the shift to the film medium threw up a few problems.
‘The thing that was difficult for me was to write alone.‘ he admits. ‘Film is a very personal thing. I‘d never sat down and written alone in a hotel rootn. or
‘Canada has these two personalities, two cultures, two solitudes living next to each other and there’s no way to reconcile them, but at the same time, there’s no way of separating them.’
sat in an editing room with another person being the one who decides what you cut. ()n the opening night of the film. I wanted to change everything I saw on the screen. If that had been a theatre premiere. I would have spent the night up with the actors and completely flipped the whole thing round. But I guess you have to live with that. Film is a shadow of what you were a year ago when you wrote it; theatre is always what you are.‘
As Pierre (played by Jesus ()f‘,l4mirl'ert/ and Black Robe star Lothaire Bluteau). wanders through the
enigmas of his past with his adopted brother. a darker
side of Quebec emerges. The character‘s search for his self is. on a wider scale. a metaphor for Canada‘s schizophrenic state. ‘Canada has these two personalities. two cultures. two solitudes living next
to each other and there‘s no way to reconcile them.‘ Lepage explains. ‘but at the same time. there's no way of separating them. There‘s this love-hate relationship. a kind of tug-of—war. not between the English and the French. but inside yourself - “What atn l‘.’ Am I North American or am I liuropean‘.”‘ We all know what we're not. but we don‘t know what we are.‘
The idea of the confessional is central to the film. In the Hitchcock flashbacks. we are reminded of the story in which young priest t‘vlontgomery Clift becomes the prime tnurder suspect when the real killer unburdens himself in the sanctity of the church. As Hitchcock (an amusing performance by lookalike Ron Burrage) shoots his key scenes. Marc's mother - pregnant at sixteen ~ is also seeking salvation in the confessional. Lepage's view ofthis Catholic ritual is touched with a modern cynicism: the sharing of these secrets seems to bring more pain than comfort.
‘Telling the truth is not necessarily a good thing all the time.‘ the director reckons. ‘and knowing the truth can be lethal. We live in a society where you can't lie any more. Fax machines and e-mail and answering machines mean we can't say “ ’eah. I sent it to you yesterday." Society is getting rid of all those little white lies that put a bit of poetry in our lives and gave us a bit of leeway to accomplish what we do and not be robots. I‘m not saying we should be liars. but myth is based on lies. and you need mythology if you're going to have imagination.
‘So the whole Hitchcock thing in the film is really mythology. It really happened. he really came to Quebec City and shot his movie. but if you walk around today. there are all these ama/ing stories - “Yeah. l met him in a gay underground bar with Monty Clift and they were kissing.“ You hear these amazing things. and they‘rejust myths. But you need that to nourish a culture. Whether it‘s true or not. who cares'."
'l'lte ('mt/essimtal opens at the Glasgow I’ll/II Theatre and Edinburgh Film/muse on Friday 7 June.
22 The List 31 May-13 Jun 1996"