The Spirit of Places Catherine Martin

In the 1970s, photographer Gabor Szilasi trekked through Quebec’s Charlevoix region documenting the lives of its residents. Three decades later, filmmaker Catherine Martin descends on the same region, seeking out Szilasi’s subjects and interviewing them about their lives, families and what has become of them in the time since Szilasi took their photograph. Carlos Ferrand’s cinematography, paired with Louise Côté’s editing, is exhaustingly meditative. Images from the interiors and exteriors of village houses are held as if divining some greater abstract truth from their static gaze, blindly disallowing that there may be nothing concealed in an absence. This is not a radical approach — in some ways, Errol Morris’s masterful Gates of Heaven is similar in construction, though made with a more contemplated gaze, husbanded to a more compelling and universal subject — but it is an approach that can backfire. This landscape does not face the impending threat of refuse culture like those presented by Jennifer Baichwal in Manufactured Landscapes (a film also exploring a photographer’s subjects), nor are the stories of the subjects here that of heroes and villains, or even distinct arguments. These lands were as they were, and are as they are. Where photographer Szilasi’s images could be a portal to discussing the present but are instead an unwelcome helping of nostalgia for subjects to gloss over and recall. In instances when the present does present itself, as in the decay of an old shipping vessel, the film does command attention. Whatever content or temporal grievances one might lodge against the film, for a first feature, Martin has delivered a work of great beauty. That spirit of places, however, does not present itself through these extending frames. What one is faced with is material that seems unfiltered, which might cogently have fit a medium length. (Productions Virage)