9. Mesnak/Turtle

There was a strand at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival called The Edge of the World, which consisted of highlights from the ImagineNATIVE Festival in Canada with a sprinkling of Gaelic short films thrown in. This particular film was accompanied by a short called Glen Tolsta (about an isolated and now abandoned community on Lewis). It was particularly nice because both the directors were in the audience so they spoke a bit about their respective films at the start. As is the way of these things Ishbel Murray spoke in Gaelic first before continuing in English, so when it came to Yves Sioui Desard’s turn he spoke, briefly in Innu before continuing in English, which is the first time I’ve heard that in real life.

The film itself is essentially a retelling of Hamlet within a Native community in Quebec (on an interesting cultural/linguistic note, I realised while watching it that I’ve seen more films in Inuit languages that I have in Quebeçois) only with less violence, more drugs and the incest isn’t so much implied as explicit (a woman sitting next to me with two early/pre teen kids got up and left during the drug-taking scene – it was rated 15 for reason…) However it is a really interesting adaptation, sticking close to the original at some points and playing fast and loose at others. For a start Osalie (our stand-in for Ophelia) gets a great deal more to do and a bit more agency. Despite sharing her Shakespearean counterpart’s fate – that doesn’t actually serve as a motivator for Dave/Hamlets’ actions (other events to do with her do, but kind of understandably) at the end so her decision seems more about her than as a plot motivator. It abandons bits of the original that it doesn’t need and drafts in elements such as drug abuse and alcoholism, assimilation versus cultural resistance that make it feel more real and less allegorical.

There’s a lot of highly symbolic stuff with a turtle – who is, I supposed, our stand in for the ghost of Hamlet’s father (his spirit animal was a turtle) – who manages to imbue considerable personality despite being a turtle. There’s less of a focus on the revenge tragedy of the original. As someone says early on to the protagonist Dave, there is more to Hamlet than just revenge – there is grief and redemption and Dave certainly gets more of both of those than his Shakespearean counterpart.

The film is beautifully shot in quite gorgeous black and white. The various locations managing to be both mundane and stunning – the reservation isn’t all one thing it is portrayed like any other rural community with posh bits, normal bits and downright scabby bits.

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