A memorable film image that I could not shake while watching French-Canadian director Sophie Deraspe’s electrifying Antigone was that of Maria Falconetti as Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent The Passion of Joan of Arc. Newcomer Nahema Ricci who stars as the title teen character in Antigone, has the same penetrating, mesmerizing gaze and innocent, ethereal facial expression as Falconetti. She’s a Joan of Arc figure for the social media age in Deraspe’s bold, modern film.
Antigone is about a haunted family that relocates from the Middle East to Montreal, but tragedy resurfaces when, in a minor neighborhood fracas, the eldest son, Eteocle (Hakim Brahimi) is shot and killed by police. His brother Polynice (Rawad El-Zein) assaults the cop and is arrested and charged. Since he’s been in trouble with the law before, Polynice is threatened with deportation. Revelations that both brothers were gang members causes pain and shame for the head of the family, grandmother Menecee (Rachida Oussaada), and older sister Ismene (Nour Belkhiria). It’s the younger sister Antigone who comes up with a daring plan to cut her long dark hair (a scene also echos The Passion of Joan of Arc) and while visiting the prison pose as Polynice long enough to give her brother the chance to escape.
Things don’t go as planned. Antigone finds herself at the center of an escalating legal fight, a tense family drama and, eventually, a social media campaign that casts her as a hero and a warrior.
Yes, Deraspe’s very contemporary film is loosely based on the Greek myth. But there is nothing stale or stodgy here. Deraspe has made a film that it is immediate, visceral and vibrant, one that’s worthy of its title and lineage.