Les Voitures d'eau
(The River “Schooners”)
Format: 16mm Black & White
Runtime: 111 min
National Film Board of Canada
Les Voitures d’eau – the final instalment of director Pierre Perrault’s trilogy focusing on the Tremblay family of Île-aux-Coudres that began with Pour la suite du monde (1963) and Le RPgne du jour (1967)– is both a stylistic and thematic summation as well as a development of the earlier films. Perrault retains the direct shooting style of the first film (and its emphasis on language) and extends the editing approach of the second to explore the economic and social realities of a people whose values put them outside the framework of capitalist production.
The narrative of the film is built around two strands. In one, the Tremblay family and their friends in the community build a magnificent wooden schooner, or goélette, using exactly the same techniques as their ancestors (just as, in Pour la suite du monde, they trap whales using ancient methods). In the other, Perrault examines the problems encountered by the villagers in their daily lives, particularly a disruptive dockers’ strike.
The ritualistic climax, which depicts the burning of an old goélette that is no longer fit to sail, encapsulates the film’s central concern with moving forward, away from the past. As Alexis Tremblay, staring at the blazing ship, states bluntly in the film’s conclusion: "It’s old. It’s finished." Alexis died several days later.
As with the Le RPgne du jour, Les Voitures d’eau was widely praised in Quebec (especially as a key indépendantiste film) and extensively analyzed by French critics for its contribution to direct cinema.