In Sophocles’ Greek tragedy “Antigone” the title character is sentenced to be buried alive for not following the laws of the gods. A new, twenty-first century retelling of the story from director Sophie Deraspe recontextualizes the story to comment on the plight of Algerian immigrants in modern day Montreal. In this retelling it’s the legal system that threatens to bury the title character.
Antigone Hipponome (Nahema Ricci), along with brothers Étéocle (Hakim Brahimi) and Polynice (Rawad El-Zein), sister Ismene (Nour Belkhiria) and grandmother Meni (Rachida Oussaada) fled Alegeria after the death of her parents. Settling in Montreal the displaced family creates a new life, ripe with opportunity with Antigone the glue that holds the family together. A straight-a student and hard worker, she puts her own future at risk when Étéocle is gunned down by police as they arrest repeat offender Polynice on drug charges. Not wanting to lose both brothers— Polynice may be subject to extradition if convicted—Antigone concocts a wild plan that places her in jeopardy.
Canada’s entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, “Antigone” is a raw, electrifying study of race, poverty and indifference in the judicial system. Exploring the ancient author’s themes of sacrifice for family, exile, state power, it puts a timely and human face on the hot button topic of how society treats immigrants.
Ricci holds the center of the film, sporting a close-cropped Jean Seberg hairdo that conjures up images of Joan of Arc. Like Joan, Antigone becomes a symbol, a woman who defies the law for something greater. Ricci brings considerable conviction to the role, especially as the legal system’s failures leave her with a growing sense of betrayal.
From its opening images of the title character as a deer-in-the-headlights to its impactful, devastating final shot, “Antigone” is an emotional journey that puts a very human face on the kind of story that plays out in real life almost every day.