Resume: En portant une attention particuliere a Maelstrom, l'auteure considere trois films canadiens qui abordent la problematique de l'experience metropolitaine de la mondialisation pour re-imaginer la ville en termes de traditions architecturales et du libre mouvement des capitaux. Dans ces uvres, la ville devient une dystopie de fonctionnalisme redondant et anonyme. Ses habitants appartiennent a une ethnie uniforme, homogene, blanche, tous des col-blancs proletarises dans la vingtaine ou debut de la trentaine. Sa texture emotive est une melancolie generalisee explicitement issue de l'impacte du capital sur la vie de tous les jours.
The metropolis is, above all, a myth, a tale...an allegory; in particular it represents the allegory of the crisis of modernity.... To go beyond these bleak stories of exile and that grey, rainy country of the anguished soul, is to establish a sense of being at home in the city, and to make of tradition a space of transformation rather than the scene of a cheerless destiny.1
While an enormously disputed and internally differentiated body of literature, theories of globalization provide a resonant framework for reading contemporary Canadian cinema as a field shaped by international flows of money, textual influence and ideologies as much as by national determinations. There is, perhaps, no better place to begin than with Arjun Appadurai who has devised an expansive model that encompasses the cross-border flow and social integration of transnational "ethnoscapes," "mediascapes," "technoscapes," "financescapes," and "ideoscapes."2 For Appadurai, this broad-dimensional approach to globalization necessitates a deep rethinking of issues of mediation and causation beyond economist approaches that privilege transnational corporate capital as the single most crucial vector in considering globalization. According to Appadurai, flows of capital, technology, immigrants, and ideas are not, "coeval, convergent, isomorphic or spatially consistent. They are...in relations of disjuncture...[and] have different speeds, axes, points of origin and termination."3 Appadurai's enormously influential model allows us to theorize the incomplete, uneven, mutually contradictory histories of globalization in Canada. Separating the economic from the socio-political in relation to their discrepant histories of development might go someways toward explaining the continuous vivacity of regional and sub-national cultural identities in Canada (Quebec and first nation communal formations being the paramount examples) against the backdrop of accelerated continental economic integration and American domination of mass media consumption.
In addition to Appadurai, Saskia Sassen provides a clear alternative to thinking globalization as a single integrated or unified conceptual scheme. Sassen suggests shifting analysis from the conventional global/national axis to a consideration of how globalization is actualized in concrete, localized assumptions about globalization, which stress the hyper-mobility of capital or the immateriality of the information economy, Sassen places a renewed emphasis on concrete location and place by arguing that even information economies require substantial, site-specific infrastructures and agglomerations of population. Introducing sub-national groupings like cities into an analysis of globalization not only adds concrete specificity but allows for a consideration of the way in which economic globalization impacts on everyday life, in particular, on the lives of marginal subjects: "women, immigrants, people of colour, whose political sense of self and identities are not necessarily embedded in the nation or the national community."4
Sassen's approach goes well beyond the consistent and often consistently banal evocation of the local as a situated or essentially resistant counter-ballast to the homogenizing and imperializing flows of global corporate influence. Reorienting the analysis of globalization from the macro to the micro involves a focused consideration of the specific places where the everyday reality of globalization is performed, felt, and resisted by embodied subjects. Central to this shift in focus is the understanding that while the cultural dominant may have a huge impact, its effects are circumscribed and not monolithic, and the everyday is the site where the contradictions of globalization and the tensions of registering differences or resistances are most apparent.
I want to look at a group of three films: most extensively, Maelstrom (Canada, Denis Villeneuve) and, briefly, waydowntown (Canada, Gary Burns) and La Moitie gauche du frigo (Canada, Philippe Falardeau), all produced in the year 2000, for the way in which they take up issues arising from the everyday metropolitan experience of globalization and re-imagine the city in relation to global flows of capital and architectural traditions. In each, the city has been transformed by the power of global corporate culture into a dystopian, soulless site of claustrophobic anonymity and redundant functionalism: chrome, steel and glass, food courts and malls. In each, the city is strangely, almost uniformly ethnically homogeneous (white), and the major narrative protagonists are proletarianized white collar workers in their twenties and early thirties, i.e. that class-fraction and generation most emphatically effected by a post-fordist universe of globalizing capital, branded consumption, mall culture, and mass-mediated existence. all of these films represent work in relation to the globalized restructuring of the economy, whether this includes the low end information processing sector in waydowntown, or the de-industrialized landscape of employment impossibilities in La Moitie gauche, or the haute couture retail sector in Maelstrom, whose success is built on the ephemera of style. In all three cases, the emotional texture of everyday life is one of a generalized melancholia explicitly tied to the colonizing and territorializing flows of corporate capital into all aspects of life-the intimate as much as the work environment.
One of the most crucial historical sites of resistance to the territorializing impulse of capital, as David Harvey has argued, was the "romantic reaction" which had its roots in the eighteenth century writings of Rousseau-most particularly, in his second Discourse.5 For Rousseau, and for later writers such as Wordsworth, Schiller and Thoreau, the ravages of industrialization and massive social inequality could be offset by the passionate expression of pure subjective interiority or by a retreat into a nature identified as a zone of authenticity and non-mediated experience. Contrary to both the Marxist and capitalist traditions, which claimed nature as a resource to be exploited in the interests of either emancipation or industrial progress, romanticism valued nature as an inherent value in itself, "a privileged means," as Harvey writes, "of not only regaining what seemed to be lost elsewhere, but of defining a future for humanity in which self-realization could only be achieved by liberating the human senses to the sublime and transcendental experience of being at one with the world."6 I would like to explore the manner in which the resistance to the omnipresence of global corporate culture in Maelstrom is compromised by its recourse to this romantic fantasy of non-coded, nonterritorialized spaces of nature. By contrast, waydowndown and La Moitie gauche du frigo share a far more explicit class politics, where downsizing, corporate greed, massive layoffs, and outsourcing are confronted directly, and the possibility of an escape from the corporate territorialization of the world remains a chimera.
While I have commented elsewhere on how globalization has impacted federal film policy with its recurring emphasis on export markets and co-productions,7 I want to take a different tack here by thinking through how cinema produced within particular metropolitan contexts might be read as a site of contradiction between space rendered as a product of international flows (of capital and architectural tradition) and space as a co-efficient of place, of a particular nexus of affect and identity. In both Maelstrom and waydowntown, the urban landscape is intentionally (and ironically in waydowntown) presented as an anonymous, generic anyplace, or anyplace within continental North America. The representation of space in these films stands in sharp contradistinction to the conventional repertoire of images (the Stampede in Calgary or the open plains of the prairie provinces, or the wrought iron staircases, the bar salons and balconies of working-class Montreal) which have typically defined regional geographies in the Canadian national cinemas of the seventies and eighties. Most startlingly, Maelstrom represents Montreal primarily by its financial district (continuously visible from the apartment window of the main protagonist) as a conglomeration of skyscrapers, chrome, steel, glass, and casual consumption, a graphic embodiment of the specularity of late capitalism.
Maelstrom opens to an operatic chorus of Norwegian voices and a travelling shot of blue sea. This recognizable geographic space is immediately transcended in the next sequence where we enter an irreducibly fabulistic space, a dank bloody dungeon presided over by a hairy executioner/fishmonger. The camera focuses on a grotesquely barnacled fish who presents himself as the narrator and announces, in a baritone voice, that with his last breath he will tell us a pretty story, the story of a young woman who makes a long journey toward reality. The next shot pulls us into the high-tech chrome and glaring light of a clinic where the protagonist, Bibiane (Marie-Josee Croze), is undergoing an abortion. It is this willful act of terminating life (there are clearly Catholic overtones to the story) that plunges Bibiane into an existential search for meaning, connection, and purpose against the precariousness, the ubiquity, and the endless random possibility of death. Returning from a party a few days later, drunk and stoned, she runs over a Norwegian fish plant worker who stumbles into his home, a great gash in the back of his head, to die at his kitchen table.
The stylistic excess of the fish dungeon sequences signals an immediate departure from any realist tradition of Quebec cinema. The inner, contemporary story of Bibiane's fall and redemption through love is framed by this narration as a kind of fractured fairy tale whose end is already inscribed by fate and predestination. The narration sequences recall the archaic time of the fable by the manner in which they reference the forms and models of traditional oral cultures for whom the telling of a story had pedagogic value as a lesson in life to the community, and the address of the narration is to this imagined archaic and unified originary community. Oral cultures, particularly as they are considered from the nostalgic vantage point of modernity, are cultures unmediated by technology, whose knowledge systems and transmission of culture are realized through face-to-face communication and through communal, performative practice. Within the super-mediated societies of modernity, then, oral narratives frequently come to stand as ideological markers of authenticity and presence, bearers of deep meaning and spiritual truths.
In Maelstrom, however, the oral narrative is delivered by a fish in a space of campy art direction, an excessive symbolic rendering that hints at depth while its very hyperbole acknowledges that, in a disenchanted, post-sacral world, the archaic-allegorical can only be represented from a space of extreme irony or naivete. Maelstrom evokes both. As Fredric Jameson argued in relation to a series of post-modern texts, this is "Surrealism without the Unconscious,"8 a simulacra of depth and of the archaic whose final reference is its own ironic impossibility.
In his study of Quebec cinema, Bill Marshall consistently highlights the deep ambivalence in Quebec culture toward the project of technological modernity.9 Moving from a traditional Catholic rural society to a secularized, industrialized world in the space of a single generation, the project of modernity, as Marshall notes, was always incomplete and always riven by a profound distrust of technology and instrumental rationality as primary social values. The temporal and spatial oscillation in Maelstrom between the archaic-allegoric and a contemporary urban dystopia of technologized relations plays to this ambivalence and collective desire for older communal values wedded to something more than the augmentation of profit. Yet the conjuring of an archaic-allegoric in Maelstrom feels much like Jameson's catalogue of postmodern angst with its longing for deep memory, long history, real tradition. "What is mourned," writes Jameson, "is the memory of deep memory; what is enacted is a nostalgia for nostalgia, for the grand older extinct questions of origin and telos, of deep time and the Freudian Unconscious."10
In a post-sacral world where collective "deep" traditions have been eclipsed by the ubiquity of American consumer culture founded on the principles of immediate gratification, sappy optimism, anti-intellectualism and infantilism so humourously captured in the song that plays as Bibiane exits from the abortion clinic ("Gliddy glub gloopy nibby nabby noopy, La la la lo lo..."), what is left in the absence of depth, are beautiful seductive surfaces. In Maelstrom there is no more beautiful or seductive surface than the protagonist Bibiane. Exquisitely passive, luminously beautiful, an embodiment of fragility and vulnerability, she is also nearly verbally catatonic. In a narrative sequence where Bibiane is interviewed by a writer for a high-end business magazine, she is surly and adolescent, monosyllabic in her resentful responses. And while her best friend Claire (Stephanie Morgenstern) is a doctoral candidate who prattles on about epistemological ruptures with absolutely convincing intellectual vivacity, Bibiane never ventures any abstract or conceptual utterances. Even as the film attempts to construct an oedipal depth psychology for her by explaining her angst as a result of the shadow cast on her life by her preternaturally beautiful and famous mother, Bibiane remains a void waiting to be filled with meaning.
Equally, the city is frequently represented as a blur of surface, a cacophony of sensation, a din of traffic, a constant swoosh of cars and people moving by, a rave shot in disjointed flashes of images. As noted earlier, the Montreal of Maelstrom is not the Montreal of the working-class quartier, le Plateau Mont-Royal. The world visible to Bibiane through the wall of windows framing her cool blue designer apartment is a world of skyscrapers, chrome and glass, a world of financial flows, the "abstract space," in Henri Lefebvre's terms, of globalized capital.11 For Lefebvre, the towers and monuments of the financial district represent the architecture of "total spectacularization," a condensed signifying ensemble of late capitalist power which, as he puts it, "finds objective expression in derivative ways: monuments have a phallic aspect, towers exude arrogance, and the bureaucratic and political authoritarianism immanent to repressive space is everywhere."12 This is space which is completely de-natured, inscribed only with relations of power and politics, a space where capitalist social relations are seen to appear as co-extensive with all space, excluding any possibility of an unterritorialized outside.
Bibiane's apartment is a mirror of this abstract space. Flanked by a wall of clear glass, through which the city is constantly visible, the distinction between inside and outside, the world of territorialized capital and her intimate domestic space is completely attenuated. Almost entirely devoid of personal effects, with the exception of a Warholesque print of Chairman Mao, the apartment stands as a minimalist statement of haute bourgeois coolness: a single couch and acres of the most pricey square footage in the city. The coolness is translated in the consistent use of blue in the art design of Bibiane's interiors, even Mao is reproduced in this shade, a commentary, no doubt, on the process of commodification and reification from which no historical subject is exempt. Bibiane is fully implicated in this world of international capital flows. The manager of a chain of high-end fashion boutiques, Sumatra Boutiques, resonating, no doubt with the branded third world chic of companies like Benneton or The Body Shop, Bibiane is caught out by her brother/business partner who phones Jakarta to confirm that she had neglected to arrange the latest shipment. While largely unremarked within the film, the mention of Jakarta can surely be no coincidence given the international mobilization of the anti-globalization movement, which brought world attention to the sweatshop conditions endured by Indonesian workers in the maquilladoras of Nike and The Gap.
According to Lefebvre, what is remarkable about the construction of space under globalized capital is that for the first time in history, nature begins to disappear completely, to be replaced by a reconstituted nature, a "second nature" of territorial infrastructures, the market, social regulations, discourses, and institutions. While in previous epochs (early competitive capitalism, for example) space constituted the scaffolding in which commodities were produced, in the epoch of globalization the social relations of capitalism are reproduced precisely through the production of totalizing space itself, a space that is now isomorphic with the entire planet.
This concept of second nature also provides a major thematic in the Frankfurt school. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno argued that the domination of nature actually precedes capitalist relations in the first divisions of labour in primitive societies. Within the era of advanced capitalism, however, nature is completely set apart from the social itself as an inert object which is ultimately seized on by instrumental reason for the purposes of domination and resource extraction. This "othering" of nature, they insist, is an integral byproduct of the operations of instrumental reason which subjects all relations to quantification. The domination of nature by instrumental reason, thus, comes to pervade all aspects of society and acts, in fact, as the paradigm for the domination of other humans and the quantification of their relations to each other. The resistance to this totalizing impulse has assumed many forms, but one of the most enduring, as I have argued, is a certain strain of romanticism which posits nature as an uncorrupted or pre-social sublime, a notion which remains vibrant in certain wings of the environmental movement. Surely, part of the continuing appeal of this notion stems from the way it responds to the social ambivalence generated by capitalist modernity and by the way it harbors a Utopian aspiration for non-commodified and non-reified relations to things and people.
Within Canadian literature, the romantic sublime has historically held little purchase, as Atwood so famously argued, given the geographic realities of Canada's harsh climate and the persistence of anti-romantic elements like mosquitoes, blackflies and forty-below winters.13 But within the cinematic cultures of Quebec and Canada, the representation of rural or northern landscapes as sites of escape or nostalgic retreat from the effects of capitalist modernity is a long and resonant tradition. In Quebec, of course, the paradigmatic example is the Iles aux Coudres series by Pierre Perrault. Beginning at the height of the Quiet Revolution, the series develops from a nostalgic reflex that seeks to recreate a lost world of tradition within the insular, but never completely closed, island community precisely at that time, as Bill Marshall observes, when "the relentless pace of modernity [had] transformed the physical face of Montreal and consolidated the way of life of the vast majority of Quebecois according to the norms of consumption, suburbanization, tertiary-sector growth, and mass media."14 Marshall notes that sympathetic readings of Pour la suite du. monde (by no less a critic than Gilles Deleuze) argue that the film is less concerned with fixing essentialist identities than with its own participatory ethnographic process which provokes "not a recalling," (an unreflexive representation of the past) but a "calling forth" (a future-directed becoming).15 Within the Quebec context, though, Perrault's work has been variously disparaged and exalted precisely for the way in which it links tradition, the past, ethnic homogeneity, and the rural landscape as ciphers of a unique Quebec cultural identity.
The ongoing critical controversy around Perrault's legacy, a controversy far more complex than the classic binary of tradition versus modernity, is deeply embedded in the Quebec cinematic consciousness and manifests itself in deliberate and overt citations. To mention two glaring examples: Le Declin de l'empire americain (Canada, Denys Arcand, 1986) and Un zoo la nuit (Canada, Jean-Claude Lauzon, 1987) are both resolutely films of Quebec's modernity, featuring urban protagonists and narrative and generic references to globalizing (American) culture. They also include, as a kind of homage to Perrault, pointed representations of empty northern landscapes with contradictory semiotic possibilities. On the one hand, in these films of urban alienation, the landscape can no longer function as a source of affiliation or of deep belonging. In Le Declin, the characters, while they meet for dinner at a sumptuous country home, never, in their narcissistic obsessions with sex and power, comment upon or appear to be affected by the breathtaking vistas that surround them. In Un zoo la nuit, Albert's memories of moose hunting in the north recall the authenticating masculine traditions of Pour la suite du monde, which are here re-enacted only as simulacra, in the shooting of a caged elephant in the metropolitan zoo. While the films assert the impossibility of a simple return to a rural mode of life as a means of reconciling alienation, the landscape nonetheless functions as a melancholic reminder of all that is lost by the travails of modernity and technological rationality.
In Maelstrom, the portrait of nature is frequently unheimlich, strange and uncanny like the forest wallpaper in the Norwegian fish worker's apartment, or the bay of water dwarfed by a huge industrial dam somewhere near Baie Comeau. While these are contradictory images of nature, the one a simulacrum, the other framing nature as an always already territorialized site of "second nature" and resource extraction, they are at the same time deliberately troping on the landscape tradition initiated by Perrault and subsequently appropriated, ironized, and refrained by subsequent generations of Quebec filmmakers.
While for the most part the space represented in Maelstrom aligns perfectly with Henri Lefebvre's definition of abstract space, there is an alternative circuit and flow of goods, people, and ideas in the film, presented with some qualification as bearing the potential for authenticity. This circuit which links fish, immigrant fishworkers, Norway, and the son of the murdered man who becomes Bibiane's romantic saviour is characterized both by its cultural otherness (other than a Chinese restaurant, the only place in the film that features immigrants is the fish warehouse, a condensed site of alternative ethnicities and linguistic difference) and by its alleged embeddedness in older systems of exchange and barter in which the object possessed an inalienable use value (i.e. quite unlike the high-fashion goods imported from Jakarta). These potential sources of deterritorialized space and non-reified relation, however, are captured by the film's consistent tendency to render them as high camp, the highest, of course, being the artifice of the talking fish.
Situating Norway as the site of the romantic sublime and archaic pre-modern can only be ironic given the absolute irrelevance of both to everyday life in a post-modern Quebec. Thus the final shot of the film, featuring the consolidation of the heterosexual couple aboard a boat "somewhere off the coast of the Loften Islands," offers no reassurance of a social or political reconciliation of the contradictions generated by a globalized modernity. Represented by an eerie expanse of gray sea, nature only appears as second nature: dead, cold and inhospitable, a site linked irrevocably to death by the final scattering of the father's ashes. Nor does the heterosexual embrace provoke any sense of future optimism. Locked in a clinch in a space that is so utterly de-territorialized, de-racinated and de-nationalized as to be imaginary, the fairy tale ending remains just that, an empty allegory. In the post-sacral, secular Zeitgeist of metropolitan Montreal, what confronts the soullessness of everyday life in corporate capital is a patently faux archaic and a particular sense of affect grounded in unresolvable loss and melancholy.
In a rather more parodic style, Gary Burn's digital feature way downtown takes the concept of second nature as built on the displacement and eradication of all natural and unmediated space to absurdist limits, waydowntown, takes place entirely within the sixteen kilometre web of interconnected malls, office buildings and walkways which link the downtown core of Calgary, known locally as "the Plus 15," built fifteen feet above street level. Like the Hotel Bonaventure, famously deconstructed by Fredric Jameson, the Plus 15, with its collapse of work and leisure spaces represents, as Jameson writes "a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city."16
The plot of waydowntown revolves around a wager concocted by four office drones to see who can stay inside this network for the longest period. When the film opens, the four have been there for nearly a month, and tempers and personalities are beginning to fray. The narrative elements of the film, however, are secondary to the film's ambition to offer a satirical take on this new kind of "post-modern" space. The mall and self-contained environments of linked architectural spaces function as a very different spatial metaphor than the glass and chrome skyscrapers of the financial sector represented in Maelstrom. If, as Lefebvre argues, the skyscraper represents capital's extroverted manifestation of architectural metaphors of "phallic vertically," what kind of power relations are represented by the mall and interior office cubicle?
In part, the distinction between the phallic verticality of office towers and the horizontal claustrophobic space of the hermetic world of the mall might parallel the distinction between industrial capitalism and the post-fordist transformation of late capitalism into consumption, a service and an information economy. Indeed, writing in the late 1960s, during what is considered to be the last phase of classical industrial capital, Lefebvre's highlighting of the office tower as the most emblematic visual instantiation of power, bears a more retrospective than future-oriented resonance as the mall progressively insinuates itself as the paradigmatic public space by the end of the century.17
What distinguishes the Plus IS, however, is the irreducible banality, anonymity and reproducibility of these spaces. Here power is defined not in relation to an extroverted or panoptic force, but in relation to the utterly administered nature of everyday life, where work, leisure, eating, etc. are all regulated and contained by the disciplinary function of corporate architectural space. Chained to their desks in cubicles in windowless offices, in an escalating series of frames and enclosures, the characters in waydowntown are all visually bound (like the obvious metaphor of the ants in the ant farm) by the spaces they inhabit. While Jameson remains ambivalent about these spaces, attracted by the manner in which they proffer public space, but wary of how this is mediated solely through consumption, Burns in waydowntown is more conscious of the way in which populist vernaculars, at least in Canada, are indistinguishable from the globalizing effects of American cultural and economic influence.18 All his characters are precisely immersed in that world of American popular culture of video games and soap operas; even the central character's fantasies of destruction are mediated through the quintessentially American format of the comic book.
Globalization for these characters means a world of endless repetition and banal routines. They buy coffee and donuts from a chain, log on, play video games or tap meaningless data into their computers. Work itself has no substance or particular purpose for it is unproductive (non-industrial) labour of the highest order, a caricature of the routinized nature of work in the white collar "information" sector. In waydowntown, the critique of work is articulated not so much in terms of exploitation, as in the classic Marxist categories of alienation and surplus value extraction, as it is in relation to boredom. While Maelstrom is haunted by that peculiarly postmodern affliction of "nostalgia for the grand older extinct questions of origin and telos,"19 in waydowntown even the memory or longing for older forms of narrative and meaning is irrevocably lost. Lingering modernist angst and the existential quest for meaning are replaced by a postmodern anomie and half-hearted search for distraction.
The bet, for example, is based on the assumption that there is something more, an outside to the built environment of the Plus 15 that is more authentic, natural or, at least, possesses a degree of less-circulated air. There is no visible evidence provided in the film, however, that substantiates this claim. Two of the characters do finally exit the Plus IS (one trapped in a garbage can, the other, succumbing to a paranoid phobia concerning the air quality in the mall, dashes outside to deeply inhale the "fresh" air of downtown smog). But the "outside," as much as the shots of the North Atlantic in Maelstrom, offers no possibility of transcendence or escape. These potentially "other" spaces are neither Utopian nor radically alternative, but in the absence of any imagined or real possibility of an outside, tactics such as the bet can only accommodate themselves to existing disciplinary and territorializing space as a wager, not against social transformation but against an overwhelming and irreducible boredom.
Like Maelstrom and waydowntown, neither does La Moitie gauche du frigo forecast the possibility of a Utopian radical disjuncture from contemporary conditions of globalization. What it does, in a humorous and imaginative manner, however, is to foreground the real material effects of economic globalization on working class lives. The conceit of the fiction is that the film is a documentary directed by the political radical Stephane Demers who is following the trials of Christophe, his roommate, an unemployed mechanical engineer who quit his job for "moral" reasons when he was demoted to quality control. Christophe, a dedicated exhibitionist and natural comic, provides the perfect foil for documenting the personal fallout of corporate structural adjustments as he is compelled to send out his resume, attempt to hustle job interviews, apply for unemployment insurance, and sell Ms car and guitar as the elusive prospect of job security continues to elude him. The choice of Christophe's profession is no coincidence, given that the development of an indigenous technocratic and bureaucratic class was a major achievement of Quebec's modernity. As represented in La Moitie gauche, however, the engineer is less an embodiment of pure technological rationality, than a de-professionalized drone of consumer capitalism, reduced to designing a better sanitary napkin.
The faux documentary style of La Moitie gauche, may be faux in relation to the contrived story and characterization of Christophe, but it is resolutely documentary in its reference to place. Unlike Maelstrom or waydowntown, space in La Moue gauche is not metaphoric, either as an architectural statement about power as embodied in the phallic verticality of office towers or in the disciplined spaces of American mall architecture. In La Moite gauche, space is always place, always firmly situated within identifiable local neighbourhoods, the Plateau, the bars, streets, and apartments of metropolitan Montreal, an actual Unemployment Help Centre and, most particularly, the industrial zone on the edge of the city where factories are, all too frequently, dismantled and shipped to Mexico. These are all sites explicitly crossed and transformed by global economic flows and, yet, they are equally sites of local and popular resistance.
I would argue, however, that the film's notion of resistance and its own implicit sense of politics is broader than the world view of Stephane Deniers, the leftist guerrilla filmmaker. While the film clearly shares a certain politics with him, his domineering tendencies, his willingness to instrumentalize relationships for the sake of the film, are subject to ironic exaggeration and critique. The film's more expansive sense of politics is far more embedded in the subversive humour of the film, in Christophe's deadpan performance, in the commonsense of his punk grocery store clerk girlfriend, in the documentary observation of factory closures and sites of de-industrialization. Articulated out of the material realities of everyday life in contemporary Montreal and Quebec, this signifying ensemble is expressed through a popular and local vernacular which includes the deliberate intertextual web of the film, referencing not only the socialist tradition of Quebec documentary, but the pre-eminent film of Quebec's post-modernity, Le Declin de l'empire american, a reference embodied in the film's inclusion of Daniel Briere (the young graduate student in Le Declin). In a wry, reflexive turn, Briere plays himself in Le Moitie gauche', an out-of-work actor forced to reinvent himself as a social welfare bureaucrat at a provincial Unemployment Help Centre. This is perhaps what is most interesting about La Moitie gauche: its consciousness concerning the distinction between the time and space of economic globalization and the survival and enhancement of local identities and forms of resistance. That the film ends with Christophe forsaking both the technological rationality of an engineering career and the identitarian politics of Quebec national space to join a punk band in Vancouver, seems appropriate to the political perspective of a film that is wary of the romanticism of revolutionary rhetoric, as well as critical of the idea of nature as an antidote to capitalist modernity. Framed by this awareness, the film brilliantly exemplifies Appadurai's thesis on the disjunctive relation between the economic, cultural, and ideological vectors of globalization.
1. lain Chambers, Border Dialogues: Journeys in Postmodernity (London: Routledge, 1990), 112.
2. Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Clobalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).
3. Ibid., 33.
4. Sasskia Sassen, "Whose City Is It? Globalization and the Formation of New Claims," Public Culture 8 (1996): 206-207.
5 David Harvey, justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 128.
6. Ibid., 128.
7. Brenda Longfellow, "The Red Violin, Commodity Fetishism and Ciobalization," Canadian Journal of Film Studies/Revue canadienne d'etudes cinematographiques 10.2 (2001): 6-20.
8 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991), 174.
9. Bill Marshall, Quebec National Cinema (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001).
10. Jameson, 156.
11. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 49.
12. Ibid., 49.
13. Margaret Atwood, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (Toronto: Anansi Press, 1972).
14. Marshall, 47.
15. Ibid., 29.
16. Jameson, 40.
17. Obviously, the semiotic valence of towering office buildings has shifted seismically since 9/11, where height is less connotatively connected to the arrogance of phallic verticality than to acute vulnerability.
18. In "Notes on Clobalization as a Philosophical Issue," (in The Cultures of Globalization, Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi, eds.[Durham: Duke University Press,1998]), Jameson offers to think about globalization in relation to American economic and cultural imperialism-as Canadian nationalists, Harold lnnis prominent among them, have been doing for over fifty years.
19. Jameson, Postmodernism, 156.
BRENDA LONGFELLOW teaches in the Department of Film and Video at York University where she is currently Acting Chair. She recently completed the documentary Tina in Mexico and is working on a series of articles on globalization and Canadian cinema.…