Première Station: Jésus de Montréal- A Filmgrimage

By Sophie Mayer and Lady Vervaine


Première Station

The subway offers signs. Organising principles, a key to the unfolding map:

Autres Directions

I (mis)read auteur/direction. Are there other ways to own a film?

Plafond. Peopled by vacant souls awaiting their crossing of the nightly Styx. Do these commuters know that they are stepping into a film? My film. Step into the same film twice.

Film is a river of forgetting. No turning back.

Deuxième Station

Daniel is here (Place St. Henri) twice. First as a prophet on the knife edge of death. Second as a ghost.

An absence.

A song. Stabat Mater. Montréal: originally Ville-Marie, Mary’s city. Now the mount is crowned by the church in whose gardens Daniel stages the passion play. Oratoire St. Joseph.

The father’s house has many rooms. Only some are visible in the film. The basilica, maybe. The crypt where we see the women singing (first iteration) in the choir balcony.

Troisième Station

Only one Father in the film: the priest who wanted to be Alec Guinness and sells Daniel down the river to keep his position. More Pilate than God.

He is the priest of St. Joseph, a church founded by Brother André, lowly porter of the monastery at the foot of the mount who dreamed of a dome rising from the crest. André’s humble chapel is lost beneath an oratory higher than St. Paul’s, dominating the skyline.

In the film, the church looks small. In the church, the film is invisible. Although tourist guides bear witness to the film’s location, the grand marble walls are mute. Not a plaque, not a souvenir, although the tourist shop abounds with take-home holiness for the pilgrim.

Quatrième Station

We are not the first pilgrims to pass this way.

A navette stops at the foot of the hill and welcomes us aboard. A sign above the windshield: the bus only carries pilgrims.

Comment savez-vous que nous sommes vraiment pèlerins?

We are here, so we must be. In the cold and the dark.

One of us takes pictures of the skyline, gold and green and shivering with winter. The other sneaks through the church. Blasphemes with each footstep. Seeking the graven – the moving – image of God, embodied in a beautiful actor. Lothaire Christ.

Daniel (Heb.): gift of God.
Coulombe (Fr.): dove.

We come in peace. We come with questions. We come with faith – in performance.

In signs.

Cinquième Station

Mass is an old performance: younger than Greek tragedy, perhaps it carries some of its gestures. It makes sense in any language – as the Passion Play comes through the actors’ comic interpretations (iterations) [Comédie Française/Method/Joual/Kabuki]. French. Music. Music. French.

Where is the Christ to overturn these tables? Reveal the CCTV cameras? No, this is still the shrine of a culture hero. If not the Son of Man, then the Son of the City. Arcand enfleshed Montréal: documentaries about Québécois politics; two films about city father Champlain; one about early women settlers, Les Montréalistes. One section of portmanteau film Montréal Vu Par...

Montréal is the new Jerusalem: divided, sacred, contested. A dome upon the rock. Wind blows around it like spooling film.


Sixième Station

At the highest point of the film, Daniel is taken to a restaurant with panoramic views over working-class Montréal (that no longer exists? that never existed? it has left no trace) called Chez Charon. All hells equal in the panoptic eye of the capitalist city.

Temptation is the enemy of the pilgrim. Is the centre of the story. I can’t forget the cold in my feet or the rumble in my belly. Time moves like time: not compressed as on the screen. We can only move from place to place by walking, by descending into the subway.

No tricks of the camera. No edits. No permission to enter the sculpture garden (where the Passion Play is staged, although the sculptures are not visible in the film). No permission to enter the basilica.

No sense to the geography of the city. There are hospitals right next to the church. Place St. Henri is half-an-hour south. Or is there no sense to our reading? Is there a scathing critique of the Québécois health care system?

Waiting for the barbarians.

Septième Station

No bread and loaves: we settle for tea and a chocolate heart. Exchange wisdoms gathered on the knifelike February walk down from the church.

I want to enter the film... if I stand on the right corner and look... I will step in through the lens of the camera.


Yes. An opening. Opening something in me.

Open. But empty.

The film? It’s all around us. The place. The church. Like a tomb.

So much to see...

Nothing. I went to the tomb of the film.

The stone was rolled away and the body was gone.

Crypt: so named for the vaulted arches employed in its construction.

You are here to find the film. I am here to find what’s missing from the film.

Huitième Station

I collect flyers, brochures, internet printouts. Tripod as staff. A modern day pilgrim.

Earliest use in English, 1205. From Old Fr. pelegrin. From Latin peregrinum, one who comes from foreign parts. Per (through) + ager (fields, lands). Wanderer, religious traveller, colonist (Pilgrim Fathers), falcon]

filmgrimage: wander through the [visual] field

Film is a foreign land we come through. Thus: filmgrimage. Pèlerimage. One who travels with film in mind. A foreign land we come to.

Roland Barthes talks about going to the cinema being like going to sleep. Here we awake, confusing the places we dreamed with the places we walk. Confusing because they are the same, but not.

Because they lie over one another, a slender archaeology.

Neuvième Station

In the Passion Play, the characters “excavate” Mont Royal and “find” Biblical evidence. This, the Promised Land. [Canada, from Cana’an]. Before the coming of the Christians, just wilderness. [Canada, from ça, nada (here, there’s nothing)].

Arcand’s Montréal is white. Where Daniel suffers, many First Nations people suffered. Cree, Montaignais, MicMac, Ojibway, Mohawk, Naskapi, Abenaki, Huron, Attikamek. French is not the only second language of Canada. Does the film record that or erase it? “I could have been born in Burkina Faso,” remarks Daniel to the court-appointed psychologist who wonders about his frustrations with Montréal, so far from Hollywood.

Hollywood is the buying and selling of flesh. The oratory sells Jesus in plastic and neon. Cherokee Beer and “l’homme sauvage” aftershave. Après rasage.

After razing the land, the city founders raised churches. Subways are laid through graveyards.

Dixième Station

The hollow of the station vault is hollow. No advertising hoarding. No-one stands there. Haunted.

The station is a cathedral: arched ceiling, silent worshippers, regularity, familiarity. Waiting. For a sign.

We are surrounded by signs: a poster for an Anselm Kiefer exhibition entitled Ciel et Terre (and what of souterrain), showing a great wingèd book; a strident scarlet poster commanding, “DONNEZ DU SANG. DONNEZ LA VIE.”

Assistance. Correspondances.

His Message is everywhere.

Onzième Station

Behind the crypt of St. Joseph is a pilgrim’s chapel where Joseph stands guard over virgins, pilgrims, the sick. Serried ranks of candles guide the way. At the far end, glowing scarlet, Brother André’s heart in a glass case.

The first of Daniel’s organs to be taken for transplant is his heart. We watch as it is removed from his chest, still beating, washed and placed in a polystyrene container of ice.

We have new uses for our saints.

The heart of the station is a vast mobile, a strange anemometer that spins with each passing train. It’s not visible in the film. Too locative. Too focus-pulling. It observes. It moves. A visible god.

Douzième Station

We’re (down) here. There is a map that tells us so. We line up our eyes with the film. Impossible. The janitor wards us off. No photography. Security.

In fifteen years, so much has changed.

But the yellow of the vaults persists. The boredom of the commuters. The high ceiling echoing with the ghosts of Pergolesi’s notes.

To see as the camera sees, we need to be angels (peregrines) – hovering near the roof. Passing through it to a starry sky.