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Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves

Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie

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Mathieu Denis (Corbo) and Simon Lavoie (Le torrent) evoke Godard’s La Chinoise with this stunning fusion of fiction and documentary about a radical Quebec leftist cell seeking to sow mayhem in Montreal as a prelude to overthrowing the government.

There are few words that will prepare you for Mathieu Denis' and Simon Lavoie's incendiary new film. Epic in length and ambitious in scope — how many Canadian films have cracked the three-hour mark over the years? — this is a work that demands attention and commands respect. Fresh from Denis' Corbo, one of the strongest films to come out of Quebec this decade, the directors ascend to the same level as some of the province's, and the country's, greatest filmmakers with this defiant, electrifying, and startling piece.

Inspired by Quebec's massive 2012 student demonstrations against a proposed increase in tuition fees, Ceux qui font les revolutions à moitié n'ont fait que se creuser un tombeau winds documentary footage into its fictional tale of a terrorist group determined to create mayhem in Montreal. The film bursts at the seams with visual exuberance — employing varying aspect ratios, a hypnotic music track, on-screen texts, and radical political rhetoric. At the same time, it subjects the members of the political cell to microscopic analysis as they bicker and fight, all the while grappling with what it means to attempt an overthrow of the government. For all its kinetic energy, the film is also deeply reflective.

Reminiscent of La Chinoise, Godard's examination of a student Maoist cell in pre–May '68 Paris, Ceux qui font les revolutions arrives on our screens amid an era of renewed political violence. What's most disturbing about the film is not its topicality, but how Denis and Lavoie place it squarely within a Canadian context, something we tend to assume is removed from the battlegrounds of the Middle East and Europe. Perhaps it is not.

Provocative, compelling, vividly cinematic and resoundingly relevant — audiences must pay attention to these filmmakers' vision.

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