Manitoban director Rhayne Vermette’s surrealist film Ste. Anne follows an Indigenous family reckoning with the reemergence of Renée (Vermette), a mother and sister who’s been missing for years.
At its core, Ste. Anne is dreamlike. The story weaves between the past and present, sequencing moments of Renée reconnecting with her daughter, Athene (Isabelle d’Eschambault), alongside the recollection of her fragmented memories. Her memories cumulate in what Renée perceives to be a message of impending threat toward the land.
This film is rich with detail. Each scene is like a visual microchapter that punctuates a certain theme. These themes, more often than not, revolve around family, reclamation and community.
Ste. Anne daringly avoids providing exposition and context beyond the bare minimum. It’s designed to draw the viewer in, commanding attention and engagement in a way that’s almost intimate.
The imagery in this film is precise. Predominantly, there’s a focus on nature and land. There are moments that – even while characters are speaking – the camera stays on the scenery, placing an emphasis on land that hums like an undercurrent throughout the narrative.
It’s important to note that the land featured is, of course, Treaty 1 territory.
Ste. Anne captures Treaty 1 territory with subdued honesty. Without spelling it outright, it draws attention to the history of the land with great emphasis on the church, de-glorifying it in a way that’s deeply justified.
While the story of Ste. Anne consists of a number of heavy layers, it’s told with an acute level of precision that’s easily seen through how each narrative fragment blends into one cohesive experience. Initially, the story feels detached from its characters, honing in on broader topics like land and family. But as the film nears its ending, the narrative gradually builds in its intensity.
Suddenly, the focus is redirected more toward the characters. An ominous sort of feeling begins to take hold, and what was once dreamlike morphs into something nightmarish. This change is done so effectively that the impact is visceral in how it generates a feeling of unease.
In truth, the ending is unclear, but intentionally so. Nothing about the narrative is meant to fit in a neatly packed box. In fact, the entire movie thrives on its obscurity, demanding the audience fill in the missing details through their own introspection. Naturally, an offbeat cinematic experience like this might turn away some, but those who decide to engage will enjoy Ste. Anne for what it is.
All things considered, Ste. Anne is a film that should be watched multiple times. There’s no way to absorb the amount of detail that’s present in each shot. But each detail should be taken in, as the story carries a crucial message about land and reclamation.
Published in Volume 76, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 18, 2021)