Published Apr 28, 2011Peppered throughout Stéphanie Lanthier's documentary about brush cutters in the rural northern Quebec Boreal forest are comments about a changing Montreal where the French language is dying and an honest man can't make a decent living. It's filtered through the eyes of landed immigrants, as the subjects of the documentary, aside from one native Quebecois man, come from around the world and detail their immigration to Canada with varying degrees of disappointment and pleasure.
It's this constant reminder of politics and Canadian identity that shapes The Lumberfros, seeming like a tapestry of stories from an ersatz community of men cut off from society, but dwelling on the periphery social issues to justify its own existence. Discussions about the living and working conditions, cut off from families for the summer season and being eaten by bugs while performing gruelling labour, seem secondary to pointed comments about the uselessness of a foreign degree in a nation that won't accept their legitimacy.
And while this pointed approach to a contemplative depiction of a socially detached subsection may raise this documentary beyond slice-of-life hokum, it ultimately betrays the humanist documentation framework by manipulating it into an agenda. The sense that we're being preached at ultimately removes us from the emotional trajectory, suggesting an "issue" that's never expanded upon satisfactorily.
It's hard not to think of Benoit Pilon's Northern Greetings, which similarly documents a removed Quebecois community formed specifically for government employment, only with substantially more respect for the psychology of its subjects. The Lumberfros hints at the character dissection so thoughtfully detailed in that far superior doc, showing the men roughhousing in their camp and having occasional off days on the job, but it's fleeting and superficial. (NFB)