Do the underwater animals that wander into the frame here seem free? Or could they just be filmed in an exhibition setting, like those aquariums that continue to exist in spite of laws that forbid the confinement and reproduction of these hypersensitive marine mammals?
Since 2012, Maryse Goudreau has compiled a social history of the beluga whale, combining archival film with images of her own in this ongoing work. In the Hudson Bay, she has been able to get close to herds of up to 40,000 belugas. She has swum amongst them, listening to their complex vocalizations on a 16-note scale, and diving in their midst, protected from the threat of a polar bear attack by the belugas themselves. She also came across scientific outposts nestled in the tundra, the discontinued space exploration programs for which they were built making them long since obsolete. The beluga is nearing extinction, sighted evermore rarely in the St. Lawrence Seaway, but its importance in Québec’s cultural mythos survives in such films as Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault’s Pour la suite du monde (1962), where the traditional beluga hunt was re-enacted to suit the needs of cinéma-vérité, laying bare the hunt’s indigenous history and colonial psychology. Maryse Goudreau’s archive provides living material for a mythological and scientific imaginary, eschewing both necro-nostalgia and didacticism. She invites us instead to be guided by her new constellation of the beluga, a star sign to guide us in these troubled and overwhelming times.