In recognition of Robert Lepage’s honouring as this year’s recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize, TIFF and The Glenn Gould Foundation are pleased to present this retrospective of the celebrated Quebecois stage and film director’s cinematic oeuvre, including his highly
anticipated new film Triptych.
In recognition of Robert Lepage's honouring as this year's recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize — an internationally juried award presented by The Glenn Gould Foundation to an individual whose lifetime contribution has enriched the human condition through the arts — TIFF and The Glenn Gould Foundation are pleased to present this retrospective of Lepage's cinematic oeuvre as part of a week-long celebration of an artist whose work so perfectly expresses the three pillars of the Glenn Gould Prize: Celebration, Inspiration, Transformation.
First attaining widespread international recognition with The Dragon's Trilogy in 1985, Robert Lepage quickly rose to become Canada's premiere theatre artist. With the founding of his production company Ex Machina in 1994, Lepage furthered his ambitions to create a truly multidisciplinary theatre that would mix the traditional performing arts (dance, drama, opera) with the recorded arts of film, video, and digital media. Alongside a string of major productions staged to great acclaim both domestically and abroad (Geometry of Miracles, Zulu Time, The Blue Dragon, Playing Cards and most recently Needles and Opium), Lepage brought his multimedia aesthetic to the opera world, mounting productions in Quebec, Tokyo, London, and New York; his work with the Metropolitan Opera in particular, including Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust and Wagner's Ring cycle, has resulted in some of the most jaw-droppingly elaborate operas ever mounted. All of these, along with his rich variety of other ventures — from his work with Peter Gabriel and Cirque du Soleil to The Image Mill, his grandiose outdoor architectural projections created to celebrate Quebec City's 400th anniversary in 2008 — attest to Lepage's conviction that creative endeavours are, and should always be, an attempt to grasp the infinite.
Given his integrative aesthetic philosophy, it was only natural that Lepage should also turn his attention to cinema. After playing a small role in Denys Arcand's Jesus of Montreal and collaborating with filmmaker Peter Mettler on both the stage production and film of Tectonic Plates, Lepage made his directorial debut with Le Confessionnal, which won the Claude Jutra Award for best first feature at the 1995 Genie Awards. Set in Quebec City, the film shuttles back and forth between two time periods: the present day, where two estranged brothers are reunited by their father's funeral, and 1952, where the on-location filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess becomes the backdrop for
a tale of dark familial secrets. Intertwining personal and public histories (a recurrent theme in Lepage's work), Le Confessionnal ultimately testifies to the limits of history as a means of understanding. The past is a key element of human experience, but not its sole source of definition — and in the films that followed his critically lauded debut, Lepage posited other, more radically speculative paths of (self-)exploration.
From the brotherly quest of Le Confessionnal, to the dimension-tripping hero of Possible Worlds who cannot reconcile the many versions of himself into a single unified Self, to the twinned doctoral student of The Far Side of the Moon who postulates a thesis about narcissism as the engine of scientific progress, Lepage's characters are driven by a burning, sometimes self-destructive desire to grasp the totality of human experience, from the micro (familial and romantic relationships, the hidden histories of the local) to the macro (the very shape of the universe itself). Pursuing their answers through a variety of knowledge/belief systems — religion (Le Confessionnal), empirical evidence (Le Polygraphe, Triptych), political extremism (Nô), quantum theory (Possible Worlds) — these protagonists continually run up against the impossibility of their quest; yet the fact that their questions seem to be unanswerable does not mean that they are not worth asking. And even as Lepage repeatedly shows his heroes stymied by the limits of humans' ability to comprehend the totality of the real, his films, like his stage works, refute the tyranny of conventional realism. The deceptive symmetry of the films' visual style, with their studied colour palettes and subtly theatrical mise en scène, is inevitably ruptured by a sudden and unexpected development that launches the films into entirely new territory. In their style as in their stories, Lepage's films remind us that whatever we accept as real must always be looked at anew.
— Magali Simard