A modernized adaptation of the ancient Greek play by Sophocles, which has been adapted into operas, television, and the cinema, Sophie Deraspe’s Antigone tells the story within modern day Montreal, now as a tale of an immigrant family. I’m always impressed to see how timeless stories of the sort can be reinterpreted for new generations, but seeing what Sophie Deraspe does with Antigone is stunning. Rather than simply going for a word-for-word approach with an updated setting, her take on Antigone isn’t only a nice reinvention for the modern age. It’s an adaptation that reaffirms the timeless quality of its source material by finding a path that’d assure its long resonance.
In this cinematic take of the play, Antigone is played by Nahéma Ricci. She is portrayed as a straight-A student from an immigrant family, consisting of her sister Ismène (Nour Belkhiria), her brothers Polynice and Étéocle (Rawad El-Zein and Hakim Brahimi), and grandmother Ménécée (Rachisa Oussaada), all of whom are taking refuge in Montreal following the murder of Antigone’s parents. After another tragedy hits the family, Antigone vows to make a sacrifice in order to preserve one for those she loves most – even at the cost of her own happiness. It’s a story that many would be familiar with as it has been told in many different forms, but Sophie Deraspe still adds a touch that would nonetheless make this take feel refreshing in its own ways.
This is the first feature film of Nahéma Ricci, and I’m already awaiting what comes next for her. In the title role of Antigone, you feel every moment of her performance as one that is beautifully realized from start to finish. You feel every moment of her devotion to her family, as she tries to fight her way through a system that is set to deport her beloved brother by breaking him out of prison, eventually causing her near perfect lifestyle to fall out of her own control. But you can’t help but admire the sort of audacity that she has in order to try and take matters into her own hands for the benefit of her own family. It helps that Ricci’s performance is one that makes you feel like Antigone could be anyone else that you knew up close, and I’m already looking forward to what comes in store for her.
It’s impressive enough to think about exactly what Deraspe manages to accomplish as she serves her own cinematographer too. Through the use of cell phone photography, it creates a jittery effect on the viewer, one that feels like you’re witnessing a tragic event as it takes place right in front of your eyes. But it also best reflects the nature of an unjust justice system, and its treatment of immigrants, only feeling every bit as timely as ever. The narrative core of Antigone remains present as ever, but as Deraspe works around the context in order to form it as a contemporary tale of an immigrant’s life in Montreal, it finds its footing with such ease.
This loose adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy only perfectly reaffirms that these stories can only create greater resonance even in today’s world. As Sophie Deraspe shows you the world through Antigone’s eyes, you won’t find yourself looking at the justice system in that same way anymore. Yet even as everything about this all might seem familiar to some, it still strikes the viewer as if it were a story that still feels so fresh anew. In a world that is continuously out to get Antigone, you still find yourself feeling that exact same stress but also that sense of love and devotion that she has to preserving her own family name – as shown through the star-making turn from Nahéma Ricci. Deraspe shows us here that even classic stories can find their means of asking questions about our world today, through her own take on Antigone.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Maison 4:3.
Directed by Sophie Deraspe
Screenplay by Sophie Deraspe, from the play by Sophocles
Produced by Marc Daigle
Starring Nahéma Ricci, Rawad El-Zein, Hakim Brahimi, Rachida Oussaada, Nour Belkhiria
Release Date: November 8, 2019
Running Time: 109 minutes