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The Far Shore

(L'Autre Rive)

Year: 1976
Language: English
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 105 min
Director: Joyce Wieland
Producer: Joyce Wieland, Judy Steed
Executive Producer: Pierre Lamy
Writer: Brian Barney, Joyce Wieland
Cinematographer: Richard Leiterman
Editor: George Appleby, Brian French
Sound: Rod Haykin, Mel Lovell
Music: Douglas Pringle
Cast: Sean McCann, Céline Lomez, Susan Petrie, Frank Moore, Lawrence Benedict, Charlotte Blunt
Production Company: Far Shore Inc.

It is 1919, and Eulalie (Céline Lomez) leaves her Quebec home to live in Toronto with her new husband, the young and ambitious engineer, Ross Turner (Lawrence Benedict). She quickly becomes disillusioned with life in their stately Toronto house and, as Ross devotes himself increasingly to the demands of his business, Eulalie buries herself more and more in the world of art and whiles away her time at the grand piano. Her playing attracts the attention of Tom McLeod (Frank Moore), a painter acquaintance of her husband’s, whose work she also admires. With her marriage turning sour because of her husband’s boorishness and failure to understand her music, she finds in Tom not only friendship and shared confidences, but eventually love.

In the summer, Tom departs on his annual painting sojourn to the wilderness of northern Ontario, and Eulalie is left in the city to cope with Ross’s growing jealousy. However, during a vacation at their northern cottage with her husband and his friend, Cluny Fitzgerald (Sean McCann), Eulalie again meets Tom. Aware of the difficulties his presence creates in her domestic situation, Tom remains at his own campsite on the other shore of the lake. Eulalie, compelled by her love for Tom and repulsed by her unhappy marriage, takes to the water in a desperate bid for freedom. She is rescued by Tom and they enjoy an idyllic reunion. Ross, consumed by jealousy, sets out with Cluny to exact retribution for his loss, and tragedy follows.

A critical and box-office failure, The Far Shore is nevertheless an important example of Joyce Wieland’s major thematic concerns. Wieland was an early feminist, ardent nationalist and, above all, environmentalist. Visually, the film is a treat, thanks to Richard Leiterman’s luscious imagery and Wieland’s skill in drawing on the work of the Group of Seven. (Wieland introduces Tom, who is clearly modelled after Tom Thomson, putting the finishing touches to a famous Thomson painting, "The Jack Pine.")

A dense and complex northern love story, formal in conception and deliberate in its innocence, flagrant symbolism and portrayal of Canadian myths, The Far Shore is rooted in the landscape and realities of the Canadian experience. Although Wieland was unable to escape the trappings of strained melodrama, the film’s romantic naturalism contemplatively echoes dozens of other Canadian films. Not the least of these is David M. Hartford’s Back to God’s Country (1919), a film which Wieland had not then seen, but which stands as a kind of precursor.

Though it went on to win three Canadian Film Awards – Supporting Actor (Frank Moore), Art Direction (Anne Pritchard) and Cinematography (Richard Leiterman) – The Far Shore was unfairly maligned at the time of its release and was almost unanimously condemned by critics (although a few, including Alison Reid and Barbara Halpern Martineau, wrote detailed, supportive analyses). Most complained of the two-dimensional characters and the film’s melodramatic structure and symbolism.

More recently, however, the film became the subject of critical re-evaluations. Robert Fulford, writing in the Globe and Mail in 1997, stated: "The Far Shore is ... symbolically, a story about Quebec culture overwhelmed by the brute power of English Canada. On the level of subject matter and symbolism, this may be the most densely Canadian movie ever made."