________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 15 . . . .April 1, 2005


The Fifth Province.

Donald McWilliams (Director). Adam Symansky & Marcy Page (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2003.
73 min., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9103 020.

Grade 12 and up / Ages 17 and up.

Review by Tom Chambers.

* /4



The search for paradise is one way we express the human journey, a journey marked by turning points, watersheds. At these moments, consciousness dawns: our lives seem to begin for the first time. A curtain is drawn between the future and the past.

Filmed in Canada, France, Latvia, Cyprus and Africa, The Fifth Province examines lives that have been irrevocably changed: Latvians exiled by war in 1944, a German photographer defined by the Nazi inheritance, a French novelist haunted by the death of his father, the plight of a Greek-Cypriot woman in the wake of the Turkish invasion in 1974, a massacre in the French town of Oradour-sur-Glane in 1944.

Behind these stories, ghosts whisper from objects that outlive our mortal lives-stones, buildings and personal belongings-watches, bicycles, snapshots, journals. (From the cover notes.)


The Fifth Province is confusing to watch and difficult to follow. The viewers' problems start with the title. We are not told until near the end of the tape that the idea of a fifth province comes from Ireland, which has four provinces, but also an idea or dream of a fifth province. This fifth province "is a happy place," a paradise "the middle of the world." Without some indication of the significance of the fifth province on the cover or on the tape, the viewer is perplexed. This feeling remains even after the reference to Ireland is given.

     The theme of The Fifth Province is man's inhumanity to man and that we learn little from tragic events in the past because similar tragedies happen again and again. Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the 1990's, for example, bears a striking resemblance to the German massacre of French civilians in Oradour sur Glane in 1944. While this similarity is obvious to anyone who watches the news, it is good to be reminded of it again. The coverage of the tragedies is uneven, however. There is far more told about the massacre at Oradour than about the Turkish attack on a Greek-Cypriot village in 1974. One needs to know a little of the history of Cyprus and why there is hatred between the Turks and Greeks.

     The film begins with the experiences of an Englishman upon his arrival in Canada in 1956. This introductory footage seems irrelevant to the stories that follow. He did not leave England because of a tragedy. The only connection to the theme is that he sees some Hungarians who came to Canada at the time of the Hungarian Revolution.

     A major problem with the video is that the locations of the scenes and topics change quickly with no indication to the viewer that this has happened. Thus, for example, we move from Ireland to scenes of Latvian girls dancing. For a moment, one assumes we are still in Ireland. Irish girls also dance and don traditional costumes. In addition, The Fifth Province tries to accomplish too much. There are too many unconnected stories. It would have been helpful if the segments were introduced. The unrelated sequences create a poorly edited and confusing film.

     Another serious problem concerns the background noise. As people tell their stories, whispering is heard. The video cover explains that these are ghosts that "whisper from objects that outlive our mortal selves." While the premise that inanimate objects whisper may be true, as an artistic activity, this is a failure. The whispering just becomes background noise and, as such, is a nuisance.

     Artistically, the tape has merits. It blends interesting archival footage with current film. This works well. Much of the recent filming is beautiful. The images from Africa are some of the most pleasing. The film's beauty, however, does not compensate for the sloppy direction and poor editing.

Not Recommended.

Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher who lives in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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