The Canadian Film Fest (CFF) is an indie-spirited festival dedicated to celebrating Canadian filmmakers. The third edition of the festival begins Tuesday, March 22 and will run Tuesday to Saturday for two consecutive weeks, presenting ten feature films and 28 short films as part of the virtual festival experience. This year’s slate of compelling Canadian features and shorts includes 50% female and 40% BIPOC filmmakers.
The scars of family trauma are ones that never really go away. Instead, they are deeply embedded in daily life, difficult to simply get away from. For three brothers and their father, all subjects in Marie-Geneviève Chabot’s documentary Beneath the Surface, a getaway is their beacon of hope for healing. Stéphane, Jean-Pierre, Jérôme, and Laurent hope to find answers; they hope that a fishing trip with dad, who was absent from their childhood, would give them the isolation needed for reflection. Beneath the surface of this fishing trip, lives are entangled with deep regrets and clashing priorities. This is one family’s journey within nature to find what they lost years ago. While Beneath the Surface feels a little lost in its focus, the well-intentioned and heartfelt storytelling gives enough pause for one to reflect on what it means to be a family.
Nature itself is both humbling and isolating. Spending time in nature calls on your vulnerable self, providing those moments of silence that can be hard to find elsewhere. But there is also a restlessness that rushes in when reality kicks in. It feels fitting that a fishing trip is the place where this family are attempting to reconcile; they each sit with their emotions, exposed as they are surrounded by nothing but water as far as the eye can see. The setting of this documentary makes the family’s story feel all the more vulnerable and confronting. With nowhere to run or hide, emotion takes center stage. It’s especially intriguing, as well as being relatable, to see the brothers navigate their way through years of hurt with a reluctance to share their feelings vocally. The weight of their presence with their father on the boat as well is enough to speak on the tensions bubbling between them. Marie-Geneviève Chabot doesn’t often veer away from the setting; her documentary sits with the family and lets conversation (or attempts at conversation) flow naturally.
While centering the family conflict around a fishing trip draws from nature to heighten vulnerability, the structure of this documentary moves in circles trying to draw bits and pieces of insight from the family. There are certainly moments of powerful emotion bubbling beneath the surface. One of the brothers shares his fear of repeating patterns of abandonment on his own child, having felt the pain of abandonment from his father. Beyond everyone’s individual story, there’s a shared sentiment among the brothers that their children have a relationship with their grandfather, meanwhile the brothers themselves never did.
When it comes to family trauma, the very meaning of the word ‘family’ is called into question. How painful it must be to reevaluate and foray into a world of silence, struggling to break through. Marie-Geneviève Chabot explores a lot of untapped emotions and history left to unpack, though in all that’s going on beneath the surface, her direction lacks a clear intention of what she wants to share about giving lens to this family. The documentary tends to sway more to perspective of the brothers’ father, whose defensiveness glosses over the validity of his sons’ experiences. After learning what the sons have kept bottled inside, it is startling to discover their father’s ability to change the channel of the past to move on. The swiftness of simply changing channels, while his sons are left with the ramifications of his absence, sheds light on just how differently people cope with the painful moments they wish not to remember. Beneath the Surface makes resonating conversation not just about lost time and the pain of never getting it back, but also the resilience with which the past gnaws at one’s soul.
Beneath the Surface will screen at CFF on Thursday, March 31, 2022. Visit https://www.canfilmfest.ca/how-to-watch for more details. Follow along with CFF @CanFilmFest on Twitter/Instagram with the hashtags #CanFilmFest and #CanFilmFestOnSuperChannel.