Friday, April 15, 2011

When art and human values clash

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the upcoming screening of the film Incendies (Denis Villeneuve). The film is based on the play by Quebec playwright Wajdi Mouawad, and was up for best foreign language film at this year’s Oscars. The film has won general acclaim not least of all in its home country of Canada.....But there was a huge controversy in Montreal over the past couple of weeks surrounding Mouawad. You see, Mouawad is friends with a certain Bertrand Cantat, former lead singer of a group called Noir Désir. In 2003 Cantat beat to death his girlfriend the rising actress Marie Trintignant, daughter of famed French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. Marie Trintignant had starred in several movies in the 1980s and 90s, at least one of which I probably saw at some place like the DFT. I remember watching the film starring this wonderful and gorgeous actress and thinking astonishingly, “this woman is no longer alive” because of the recent news that she had died as a result of blows from her hideous boyfriend.....Anyway, fast-forward to this year. Mouawad wanted to bring Cantat to Canada to star in a live theatrical rock adaptation of Sophocles’s tragedies. The news generated incredible opposition in Quebec where the first production was scheduled. Cantat had been sentenced to eight years in prison but was released in 2007 for good behaviour. When news of his starring role in the Canadian production was made public, this generated a public outcry. According to one report, “Theatregoers threatened to cancel subscriptions, women’s groups accused the theatre of trivializing domestic violence, and politicians vowed to slam the door on Mr. Cantat."  So, facing overwhelming opposition it wasn’t long before Montreal’s Théâtre du Nouveau Monde announced that it was cancelling Cantat’s appearance.  Nor will he perform in a second production at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre (NAC).....Mouawad has so far remained silent but may speak April 18 when he announces  the NAC’s upcoming French-language program.....The public's anger caught the theatre company off guard. Said Lorraine Pintal, Théâtre du Nouveau Monde’s artistic director, “Never could I have imagined that the presence of Bertrand Cantat, as a musician on stage, was going to raise such a political, social and media debate”.....What strikes me as interesting about this whole affair is the clash between artistic and human values. Ironically, the very same values often championed by the liberal theatre community, such as the degradation of women, gave way to supposedly the higher calling of art. Perhaps a play could be written about that.

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