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Quebec’s Robert Lepage is most often lauded for his work on the stage, most recently his new translation of “Needles and Opium”. Many often forget though that the great Canadian playwright also dabbled in film. Though he always kept his focus on the stage, Lepage took a break every few years to make a film, which he calls his “hobby” rather than his actual profession. Like his stage work, Lepage’s films are profound, philosophical, and at times darkly humorous. When watching a film by Robert Lepage, one must look out for his many recurring themes such as the human mind, sibling relations, death, and the exploration of the past vs. the present. To coincide with Lepage being the recipient of this year’s Glenn Gould prize, TIFF has mounted a retrospective of Lepage’s film work entitled Robert Lepage: Possible Worlds. In honour of both the artist and the retrospective, we at Black Sheep Reviews provide you with a preview of some of Lepage’s most important films.

Le Confessionnal (1995)


After a string of successful plays, Lepage finally decided to try out his talent with film, resulting in his debut feature LE CONFESSIONAL. The film tells two stories, one in present day Quebec City, where Pierre (Lothaire Bluteau) has reunited with his estranged adopted brother, Marc (Patrick Goyette), after journeying home for his father’s funeral. As Marc begins to question his identity, the film takes us back to 1952, when Pierre’s pregnant, unwed mother, Rachel (Suzanne Clément, of 2012’s LAURENCE ANYWAYS) confesses her guilt to a young priest. In the 1952 storyline, Lepage uses the production of Alfred Hitchcock’s I CONFESS, which was being filmed in Quebec City at the time, as a backdrop. The Hitchcock bit feels like a bit of a gimmick for the film to find an audience, as it doesn’t really contribute to the story; but it does provide the means for a small, but excellent performance by Kristen Scott Thomas as Hitch’s assistant.

Possible Worlds (2000)


Lepage’s complex first English language feature provides TIFF with the name for its  retrospective, and it’s certainly a good choice. While the public did not adore the film when it was initially released, I consider it to be Lepage’s strongest film. Like LE CONFESSIONAL, POSSIBLE WORLDS features two primary storylines. The film opens with a police investigation concerning a murderer who is removing his victims’ brains. The investigation runs throughout the film, and seems to have no connection to its parallel plot. The second storyline follows a widower named George Barber (Tom McCamus), as he falls in love with Joyce (Tilda Swinton). The film shows us different universes, where George and Joyce are different people, but are always falling in love. The film is extremely complex, and at times is quite confusing, but the end gives us the classic “Aha!” moment, in which viewers will realize that they have just experienced a work of pure brilliance.

Far Side of the Moon (2003)


For his fifth feature, Lepage steps in front of the camera to take on the roles of brothers Philippe and André. After his mother’s death, Philippe is left with no connection to anyone except his mother’s goldfish, and his brother, whom he barely gets along with. His mother has just died, he failed his Ph.D. dissertation for the second time, and he is about to get fired from his temp job. With his life in shambles, Philippe tries to give his life some meaning by attempting to receive an endorsement from a visiting Russian cosmonaut, and by entering a contest to have a homemade video translated to binary code and sent to extraterrestrial life forms. The film is plagued by digressions into philosophy and astronomy, which really take away from what could be a great film about a man struggling to find his identity.

Triptych (2013)


After a ten-year absence from the silver screen, Lepage returned (with co-director Pedro Pires) to mount his nine-hour epic play, “Lipsynch” on screen. Through the stories of three characters, Lepage explores the mind and our need as humans to form connections with others. While at times the film is very philosophical, it still features a very strong narrative and creates deep, layered characters in its short ninety-minute runtime. Don’t fret about the fact that Lepage shortened nine hours into less than two. His original play featured nine different stories, and he only uses three in the film. (Click here to read Black Sheep’s original review for the film.)

Robert Lepage: Possible Worlds runs until Tuesday at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. For more information, visit For more Lepage, you can purchase tickets to see his play Needles and Opium when it returns to the Canadian Stage in May of 2015.

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