When Pier-Philippe Chevigny embarked on research to make a film on the reality of temporary foreign workers, the filmmaker quickly understood why he had never seen a documentary on the issue. “There is an omerta. People don’t want to talk and are afraid of reprisals. »
Here’s a great reason to make it a fiction, an approach that makes it easy to protect the anonymity of sources, he thought. After his short film Tala (2013), which dealt with Filipino housekeepers working in Montreal, he wanted to focus on another aspect of the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program.
“In my artistic process, I have always been interested in issues of social justice. Making political films is a bit like the crossroads of my interests,” explains the man who was an activist during the 2012 student strike. Jury prize at the Les Percéides festival, earlier this week.
Richelieu exposes the abuses suffered by workers throughout the story of Ariane (Ariane Castellanos), forced to return to her hometown to work as an interpreter in a food processing plant. First determined to obey the excessive directives of the boss (Marc-André Grondin), she finally befriends the workers and tries to defend them against the exploitation to which they are subjected.
“We’ve seen movies about exploited workers from the perspective of the workers, we’ve seen movies from the perspective of the bosses. But focusing on someone who is a bit in a middle position, it was really interesting on the narrative level, ”notes Pier-Philippe Chevigny.
Before launching, the filmmaker visited Guatemala accompanied by Ariane Castellanos, who acted as… an interpreter! Together, they visited a dozen families and collected testimonies, from which Pier-Philippe Chevigny drew inspiration in writing the screenplay. The actress, herself half Guatemalan, had no idea that this project would resonate so much with her. Alongside the story of the workers, the film presents the quest for identity of its character, who finds in his new job a way to connect with his origins.
“I really see it as a gift,” she says, not forgetting that this is her first leading role.
Rubbing shoulders with the actors who played the seasonal workers brought up childhood memories, which had a soothing effect. “I felt like family. Over time, I understood that I had common references with them, that we somehow shared a culture. »
Marc-André Grondin, who had a crush on the screenplay, quickly grasped that his character Stéphane, factory boss, was not “just an asshole”.
“This is not a simple criticism of factory managers. It’s a general examination of conscience on a way of doing things that needs to be improved, ”underlines the actor. The director agrees. “The problem is the system that grinds people down and establishes a hierarchy where everyone exploits themselves right down to the bottom of the chain,” explains Pier-Philippe Chevigny.
The objective was also to make a film relatively popular with the public, to give meaning to its political vocation.
Raising awareness is always delicate work. But thanks to the characters of Ariane and Nicole (Micheline Bernard), who, at first, are completely unaware of what is going on behind the factory gates, everyone can feel concerned. “As consumers, we are also a cog in this system because we benefit from low grocery prices, which are affected by the exploitation that can occur in production chains,” says Pier-Philippe Chevigny.
“My goal was to tell the Quebec public: I understand that it hurts. We have a colonial history in Quebec, we often have the impression that we can only be in the position of a victim. But it is clear that we repeat the same mechanisms, which does not detract from our fragility within Canada and our specificity. But not talking about this problem, yes, is to be complicit. »
By starting to work on Richelieu, the filmmaker was well aware that he was holding a hot topic in his hands and that his project could lose its value at any time. “The problem still exists, even though there are more and more workers since the pandemic,” he tells us. Cases of abuse have also been more numerous to be publicized since then. This film is perhaps more relevant than it ever would have been.