This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Watching “Archipelago” in a powerfully pitch-black theater worked wonders for its ambiance. A beautiful array of colors captivated my attention from start to finish, combined with amazing animation and masterful music. I was drawn to the screen, but I was not necessarily always sure what I was watching. The intended meaning of the French animated film was definitely difficult to follow, and I was often left with many questions. The storyline was loosely woven throughout the movie, often diverting to seemingly irrelevant scenes that threw my efforts of attempting to understand the film. Truthfully, as the movie progressed, I had absolutely no idea where it was going. Just about anything could have popped up on the screen, and I don’t think I would have questioned it. I definitely do not think I could have gathered the overlaying message of the movie simply through the film itself. But I think the film was purposefully meant to be confusing — this only added to its disorienting impact. Even with stellar animation and a serene atmosphere, “Archipelago” is harder to understand than it is to explain. 

An archipelago is simply defined as an area inhabited by groups of islands, specifically in Québec, Canada for this film. Director Félix Dufour-Laperrière (“Ville Neuve”) blurred the lines between imagination and reality throughout the film by taking the viewers on a journey through the islands. The expedition includes sights from Québec’s real and imagined past and explores the idea of what makes a home or territory. The phrase “you don’t exist” is asserted frequently by one narrator to another, who is the supposed tour guide on the viewer’s journey. The journey itself is truly mesmerizing, as Dufour-Laperrière includes an abundance of high, moving camera angles that made me feel like I was flying above the islands. It was a refreshingly freeing experience that gave me an odd sense of peace throughout the film. Dufour-Laperrière describes the film by saying, “When we belong to a place or community, a country or family, it is real — but there is also an imaginary dream space, something that you project onto that space.” He does a great job of intertwining the real and imaginary spaces, but the message was nonetheless lost in the trance-induced confusion. 

In terms of its animation and film score, “Archipelago” does not disappoint. The entrancing animation and beautifully simple songs amalgamate perfectly to create a peak level of calamity while watching. The animation was definitely the most intricate for scenes showcasing the islands, whereas the people were usually drawn as silhouettes encapsulated by darkness to shine a spotlight on the inner beauty of the islands. Each song sounded like a legato string quartet that played as the viewers were flying above the islands, often plummeting into a silence that never felt particularly unnatural. 

The conversations in the film were predominantly concerned with philosophical questions that were meant to prompt deeper thought. While I don’t think these talks were completely useless, I definitely think the movie would have been easier to understand if the narration focused on the reasoning behind the film. Is there a deeper meaning behind exploring the islands? How exactly does imagination meet reality in this archipelago? I learned much more through reading a quick interview with Dufour-Laperrière than during the entire 72-minute movie. I understand that the intention of the film was to maintain an abstract feel, but I think it was a little too abstract to comprehend. Artistically, Dufour-Laperrière’s “Archipelago” is stunningly executed. Logically, not as much. 

Daily Arts Writer Zara Manna can be reached at