Hot Docs 2009: Antoine (Bari, 2008)

Antoine, which follows blind Quebecer Antoine throughout his daily routines at school and his playtime with his friends, falls short in most of its aspirations: a magical realist fantasy for children, an account of the experience of growing up or caring for the blind, or a character study of a bratty, overpriviledged adolescent. It likely would have succeeded had it focused on only one of these topics, but became a film without a goal or a purpose by cramming all of it in. Antoine is most memorable as a documentary of the fictions that children create, portraying Antoine and his friends’ hunt for a woman who turned into water as if it were a reality. It is a fun exercise that must have been a dream come true for these kids – getting a movie made about the movie world that they so clearly wish they inhabited – but it strays from the film’s focus on Antoine as a blind child. Nothing in the playtime is a product of Antoine’s disability; his imagination isn’t shown to be stronger or more/less diverse than those with vision, or really different at all from his friends. It has the same feeling as if any group of children were allowed to turn one of their imaginary games into a film, which is the same as a poorly shot fiction scripted by children: perhaps fun as a short, but not quality material to plaster a feature into.

Scenes of Antoine at school also had potential, especially when he starts telling his friends that he isn’t their friend anymore, and starts hitting some of them. This is never expounded upon by talking to the friends he wants to abandon, or Antoine’s parents to see if there are troubles at home, or even Antoine’s perspective on why he did this. We only see Antoine getting disciplined by his teacher for a couple of minutes while Antoine cries, and then the issue is never addressed again. In a film about an autistic or ADHD child, this might be acceptable, but it is too significant of a departure from Antoine’s projected behavior up to this point to let it slide under the rug. The parents also apparently wanted the documentary abandoned halfway through filming because of its effects on Antoine, but this is not detectable in the film, let alone addressed. It is yet another example of the truth being avoided for the filmmaker’s predetermined goals for the film, which is a rambling, only occassionally watchable misfire from a filmmaker who seems to only have talent for visual styling.