(Check out my previous Frederic Back film review: ¿Illusion?)
Taratata is a term you probably haven’t heard unless you’ve studied French, and even then, I studied French for four years at University and Quebecois culture, politics, and dialect for a full semester and still didn’t know what it meant. Google Feedback defines it thus: Onomatopée exprimant l’incrédulité, la défiance, le mépris. It is used as an onomatopoeic interjection expressing incredulity, defiance, or contempt. In the context of a short film by Frederic Back it is used with a political sense in mind.
But first to the film’s production history. Back’s previous film was released in 1975 and throughout the latter half of 1976 and the first few months of 1977, Back worked to create Taratata which would become his fifth film. Unlike Back’s previous experiments, Taratata is shorter than its predecessor. Rather than slowly working his form toward lengthier narratives, Back decided to condense the narrative and remove all extraneous content to make it as concise and cohesive as possible. He worked with one assistant (Suzanne Raymond) who aided Back as an in-between artist, tracer, and colorist, but otherwise left him to his own devices.
After doing a bit of research, I found that Back used assistants on half of his projects hitherto, but always for different reasons. On his first film, Abracadabra, Back had six assistants assigned to his production from a higher up at Radio Canada Broadcasting in order to speed along his process. Back chafed at these restraints and on his next two films, he refused assistance altogether, instead opting to create his films entirely by himself. This is kind of extraordinary as both of those films were released within one year, and it is only when Back had assistance that his production times began to drag on. For his fourth film, ¿Illusion?, Back again had an assistant (this time only one). And somehow his production time on that film (less than a minute longer than the two he created by himself) took a whopping 18 months to create. Although Taratata is three minutes shorter than that film at 8 minutes and 30 seconds, it only took him 8 months to produce. Suffice it to say that Back was an experimental filmmaker who took his time going down interesting rabbit holes and producing his work part time while fulfilling his main duties at Radio Canada.
The film itself is about Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day in Quebec, which is an ancient European religious holiday that had previously been celebrated in the old countries for hundreds of years prior to colonization and European imperialism in North and South America. In Quebec, the festival was a celebration of Quebecois heritage and history, and Back shows this as parade floats of colonists and natives, of fur trappers and patriots, of the church and of traditional music and dancing, and of frontiering and exploration float on by through the streets.
A young boy attempts to watch the parade from a light pole, but finds himself viewing the latter half of the parade wherein the American flag is draped along many floats. This signals the parade of modernity that America represents to the world: Industry and its hazards like pollution, child labor, unsafe work environments, and alienation from one’s labor and one’s life. Militarism and its discontents like imperialism, slavery, death, the war machine, the military-industrial complex and the buying of politicians that signaled the death of democracy and a shift toward a corporate hold on politics. Nuclear science, the atomic bomb, nuclear energy and catastrophic accidents like Chernobyl. Skyscrapers and mega-architecture, the birth of cities, Durkheim’s studies on suicide, mass malaise and existential dread in the face of living life as a media being artificially made to revere to spectacle through advertising and other such forms of anti-Free Market propaganda (because remember, enough advertising is what makes a brand the ‘best’, not its actual qualities. Logic dictates that there are better soda companies than Coke and Pepsi, but we keep buying those because advertising perpetuates the rich company’s popularity despite it potentially not tasting the best or being the most affordable. Advertising is, in this sense, anti Free Market.).
The scared child who has witnessed this parade evades the scene by running down a morbid backstreet where he falls asleep until night falls. Once awakening, he returns to the main streets and finds trash littering the ground where this once great revelry of Quebecois pride and heritage passed through in its current devolved form. The boy imagines the grandeur of a great parade without politics and without the machine. And his vision is so potent and nostalgic and beautiful that it manifests in the minds of those denizens who were similarly disaffected by the charade of a parade Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day has become. All gather around to dream together of a better day, and the little boy retires back to his side streets with a smile across his face for the first time that day.
In the years leading up to Taratata, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day was undergoing some real changes for the worst. It had become a day celebrated by the right wing and by nationalists who wished to revoke non-Catholic and non-French-Canadians from its celebration and thereby from an essential element of Quebecois-ness itself. In 1964, there were protests against the then-Governor Vanier of this right-wing nature. Again in 1968 there were riots against Trudeau’s visitation of the event as he was notably an inclusive politician and head of the Liberal party. In 1969, nationalist riots erupted like never before through anti-immigrant rhetoric and the effigy/icon of Saint-Jean-Baptiste was toppled and destroyed. Finally, in 1970, there was no Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade event at all.
Throughout the 1970s, these problems remained. But it just so happens that in 1977, the government passed a law mandating Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day a national holiday. This helped to transition the day definitively away from nationalist rhetoric as it became a time when many Quebecois were off of work and could celebrate the multi-faceted, multi-ethnic background and current reality of Quebec together without a preponderance of religious or traditional-ethnic rhetoric being associated. Today, this parade is a celebrated event and often fun parade for those of Quebec in which politics often comes to the forefront. However, these politics are often more inclusive and leftist, and thereby more in keeping with Back’s ideals and with the ideals of freedom and social liberalism on which Western democracies are based. And otherwise, this day has returned to being a celebration of heritage, history, and the multi-cultural present reality of the province that refused to be assimilated by English Canada so many times in its history.
[Next up: Tout Rien]