Sydney Film Festival Review: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (Canada, 2017) is unwieldy but compelling

Audacious is definitely the right word to start with when it comes to describing the Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie-directed Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves. At 180 minutes, it’s a leviathan of a film that often comes across as equal parts provocative and indecipherable.

The central narrative here centers on a group of four young people (Gabrielle Tremblay, Charlotte Aubin, Laurent Bélanger and Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez) who bond together over their desire for revolution in a world they’ve nothing but contempt for.

As the title suggests here, the four are fervent believers in the idea that the only way to truly live as a revolutionary is to carry the ideals and optimism of youth all the way to your grave. It’s their near-religious commitment to this idea that ultimately leads them to drift between protest and terrorism as the film escalates.

While Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves is a French-Canadian film, it’s the former that’s more prominent here. It’s deeply symbolic, often ambiguous and filled to brim with sprawling soliloquies – both diagetic and otherwise. It really dissects its themes and delves into the depths of the relationship between youth and the desire to revolutionize the existing political order.

Still, as things progress, it does become clear that there’s a method to the film’s madness. You learn more about each of the four revolutionaries. You learn what made them take up their shared cause and how deep their devotion to that cause runs.

Directors Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie deftly deploy a litany of different film styles here: from monochrome security reels to grainy archival footage of historic protests to interpretive dance sequences. These cinematographic efforts are well-grounded by the film’s score, which is so sweeping and melodic that the film literally begins by letting you soak in it for almost ten minutes.

Though some of the earliest (and later, most grisly,) moments in the film firmly belong Laurent Bélanger’s character, Tremblay and Martinez ultimately emerge as the film’s most compelling figures. Tremblay, specifically, adds a powerful degree of authenticity to the mesmerizingly open transness of her character.

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves feels like it’s absolutely not a film that the average movie-goer is going to be thrilled with. Hell, there were plenty of walkouts in the screening I attended. It’s long, slow, and filled with dialogue as dense as it is poetic. It’s not going to be for everyone.

Regardless, I still found it to be a timely film with a lot to say – if you’re willing to listen. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a film with the courage to let you make up your own mind about it.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves is screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, with remaining screenings on the 18th of June. For more information about the festival and screening times, click HERE.