Dateline: 19 September 2015
After my previous blog post I started looking at some of the other films at the Canadian National Film Board's web site and was delighted to find Alexis Tremblay: Habitant.
"Habitant" is an old word for a farmer of French descent in Canada. The documentary film, made in 1943, is a chronicle of the life of a habitant family living in Les Eboulements which is a small village northeast of Quebec, on the Saint Lawrence River.
Another way to picture the location of Les Eboulements is to consider the farthest-north town in the state of Maine (Estacourt Station, population, 4), then go directly west (as the crow flys) about 50 miles. The funny thing about Estacourt Station is that, as they say in Maine, "You cahn't get theyah from heyah." The town is accessible only from Canada. But I digress.
The 72-year-old film is nothing short of a celebration of Christian-agrarian life and culture. As such, it is idealistic, but it is not unrealistic. It portrays a way of life (and a worldview) that most Moderns would see as outdated and undesirable.
After all, the Tremblay family has little in the way of modern labor-saving devices and modern amusements. How could they possibly be as happy as they look? Don't they realize how deprived and poor they are?
Surely, these habitants of old need a television in their home so they can more clearly see their material poverty. And they will want to start buying more manufactured stuff. You know, stuff that's made in factories. Stuff that the family couldn't possibly make in their limited home economy. Their problem is that they just don't realize that they need more of this stuff... yet.
And, of course, Alexis will need to start farming more than the 40 acres that came to him from his father, and which supports his large family. More stuff will require more income.
But, again, I digress, and with both sarcasm and contempt.
Instead of lack, I see the family in this film has a rich and rewarding family economy. Furthermore, they are rooted in a small rural community. Family is all around and families help each other. Their friends and neighbors share much of the same local history. In short, the Tremblay family is woven into the fabric of land, faith, family and community in a way that was once common.
It is a beautiful way of life. It is a pattern for living that is practically extinct. But, lost though it may be, I firmly believe this way of life is something that can, to some degree, be reclaimed by anyone who has a vision for it.
The pursuit of this agrarian vision within a family must be deliberate. And to bear the best fruit, it will require a multi-generational effort.
I hope you enjoy this movie as much as I did (I've watched it three times).