(La Face cachée de la lune)

Directed by Robert Lepage. 2003.

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“To search expectantly for a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture-bound as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant” – Terence McKenna 

Unlike the ancient notion that the moon is a mirror of the Earth’s surface, modern space exploration and satellite imagery have revealed that the moon is a large cratered rock with the far side permanently turned away from the Earth. In Quebecois director Robert Lepage’s film Far Side of the Moon, the moon’s far side serves as a metaphor for the divide that separates two brothers, each with a different sexual orientation. Based on a one-man stage play by Mr. Lepage, it is both a history of man’s exploration of the surface of the moon and the inner exploration of two individuals who are trying to put their life in order after the death of their mother (Anne-Marie Cadieux).  

Shot in fifteen days in digital video using dissolves and CGI, the film creates a dazzling confluence of reality and fantasy that moves effortlessly between past and present utilizing delightful, surreal effects that form a bridge between the Earth and the cosmos. Philippe looks at the window of a washing machine and sees the vastness of space, a trip into the stomach of a pregnant mother turns a fetus into a tiny astronaut connected to his craft, the stacking of bottles in a restaurant becomes the launching of a space mission, and a man walking on snow becomes an explorer on the moon. The two brothers, Philippe and André, are performed in a dual role by the director. Philippe is an unhappy dreamer with no relationship and no profession.  

He works as a telephone solicitor for the Montreal newspaper Le Soleil but is clearly distracted and makes personal calls to his ex-girlfriend (Céline Bonnier) and his brother that cause his employer consternation. His younger brother André, a gay man, is a weatherman for the local television station and maintains an ongoing relationship with Carl (Marco Poulin). More carefree than Philippe, he is preoccupied with disposing of his mother’s possessions. Philippe is a perennial student who, at age forty, is still seeking approval for his Doctoral dissertation which argues that man’s desire to explore space is built, not on discovering the mystery and wonder of the universe, but on his own narcissism - his act of self-projection.  

When Philippe’s thesis is again rejected by his Doctoral committee, however, he seeks other avenues for recognition but they lead only to humiliation. He is treated rudely by guards when he wants to give a copy of his paper to former Russian cosmonaut Alexi Leonov; is thrown out of a late night bar for being loud and drunk; has an embarrassing meeting with Carl at a sauna, and when he receives an invitation to present his paper at a symposium in Moscow, ridiculously forgets to adjust his watch to local time and faces an empty theater. Finally given a chance to showcase his creative talent when he is accepted as a participant in a SETI project to collect home videos to send into space, he limits his film to showing his apartment while rambling about his life and his video lacks poetry or self awareness.  

As Philippe’s life becomes increasingly dysfunctional, and his estrangement with André more pronounced, a suddenly discovered secret brings the two brothers together. Like the scarred far side of the moon, their lives have sustained repeated impacts which they have kept well hidden. Now that their scars are revealed, a huge burden has been lifted, and, with the aid of CGI, Philippe’s weightless body can ascend into space. Far Side of the Moon is entertaining and highly imaginative and I would recommend it, yet there is little emotion in the film and, for all its transcendental motifs, I found it to be lacking a sense of the mystery and wonder of either outer or inner space. 


Howard Schumann
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