Forget Jaws—the greatest fish to appear on screen is in the Québécois film Maelström, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve. The Fish (credited as “voix de l’entité”) is an elaborate puppet who narrates the film with a husky Serge Gainsbourg-esque voice while he is repeatedly decapitated (then reincarnated) by a sweaty, hairy fishmonger who appears to be working in the belly of a whale. Life is a sticky, bloody, treacherous mess, where the end is always close at hand. But don’t worry, The Fish tells us, and he recounts “la jolie histoire” of Bibi Champagne, a fashion designer and party girl whose “pretty story” includes abortion, murder, suicide and bad octopus. Fate plays an important role in this film, almost becoming a character itself, and The Fish comments on this fate. The Fish is a good argument against the use of computer-generated images and a testament to the ever-creepy power of the puppet (remember The Dark Crystal?), a true wonder of aquatic-robotics. As the film progresses, Bibi moves from darkness into the light, or rather, as the metaphor of water is a strong one in this film, from underwater back to oxygen.
The metaphor of fish and motherhood (the womb as fishbowl) can also be seen in Robert Lepage’s film Far Side of the Moon. Philippe’s mother has died and left him her goldfish. Philippe’s brother is like the bright side of the moon—a successful weatherman with a swish flat in Old Montreal. Philippe, the crater-ridden far side of the moon, is a loser—he works as a telemarketer and still lives in his mother’s apartment while he tries to prove his thesis: that the 1960s space race was an exercise in narcissism. On a quest to find meaning or validation, Philippe enters a contest to make a video that will be transferred into binary code and sent into space, in hopes that extraterrestrial life will see or hear it. The way Lepage “stages” the film (he is the writer and the director, and he plays both brothers) is brilliant. Set pieces serve as portals to the past, images transmute—an astronaut in space reads as a child in the womb, a child looking into the washing machine becomes a rocket shooting into space, the snowy Montreal hills are the surface of the moon. Lepage is one of Canada’s greatest stars. He does it all—theatre, film, opera, the stage concepts for Peter Gabriel’s shows—and he does it all without the aid of eyebrows.