C'est Moi: Howard J Davis seductively mashes historical horror with the present
by Drew Rowsome
C'est Moi is short film that begins as a particularly evocative Canadian Heritage Minute, lulls one in, piles on the dread, and then delivers a Canadian Heritage Of-This-Very-Minute. Marie Josephe Angélique and the Montreal fire of 1734 is a tale that is part of Quebecois folklore; the recent disappearance of the "Declaration de Montreal Contre la Discrimination Racial" plaque is less known. Combining the two mysteries makes for unsettling viewing. I was shocked, surprised and horrified that I had never heard of Angelique, and shocked and horrified but not surprised that the plaque, and its fate, was also unknown to me.
Filmmaker Howard J Davis, until now more well known for his acting prowess (The Wedding Singer, Bombay Black), first heard Angélique's story, "About eight years ago. But given that some may have an adversity to a man telling a woman's story and being mixed race, I shied away from it for awhile. I feel in Canada we have a high sensitivity to what is appropriate and who has the right to tell certain stories. But if done with integrity it can be done respectfully. Not to sound righteous, but as a queer man I feel more obligated to tell stories of victims of oppression not at the forefront of media and history."
C'est Moi is not righteous, more seductive, but it does hit like a velvet-wrapped sledgehammer. The extraordinarily expressive Jenny Brizard conveys Angélique's fate through her eyes and grace. Then the gutted construction site of the plaque's removal - "The declaration is being removed to make way for accessibility and access in the old city for Montreal's 375th birthday," says Davis. "I didn't want to point fingers and blame city officials, but when I asked where the declaration had gone the official did not even know it was there in the first place." - points out how little we have learned in just under 400 years.
"I think what I've tried to say with the tag line is just that same issue surrounds Black Lives Matter," says Davis. "Her story is our history. This is Angélique's story and it is our history as Canadians. My dad is of colour and this exploration of my heritage has been eye opening."
Davis has a sharp eye and C'est Moi is visually lush with a simple but clever juxtaposition driving the framework for Brizard's performance. After the first viewing, I googled "Marie Josephe Angélique" and read a few versions of her story, what little historical documentation there is, and marvelled at how much theatrical and visual art she inspired. (Controversial in Quebec, she is an icon in Haiti though that particular mythology includes her original, exceedingly gory, punishment as the one carried out.) Googling "Declaration de Montreal Contre la Discrimination Racial" had far less success.
That smidgen of research made the second viewing more devastating and rich. If all Davis accomplishes is to get an audience to wonder about the links between the past and the present, and how history is written and unwritten by those in power, and how a miscarriage of justice based on race can haunt for centuries, C'est Moi is an accomplishment. If it opens a dialogue of outrage, it is a triumph.