Robert LePage directs this exercise in dry wit and history, a French-Canadian comedy of manners cut down from his seven-hour play The Seven Streams of the River Ota. It’s set in Japan at the time of the 1970 Expo, 25 years after the end of WWII. Meanwhile back in Quebec the secession movement is reaching its high water mark and the national government is so rattled it is on the verge of imposing martial law. No is a clever, sophisticated film (and at times in a slightly self-satisfied way) whose title gives us a taste of things to come. No – a pun on the Japanese style of Noh theatre, was also the verdict when the Quebecois went to vote on the issue of separation. There’s more of this sort of mechanistic symmetry but the film’s self-conscious artfulness is trumped by the human story we’re treated to, of a troupe of Canadian actors on tour in Japan who find their lives becoming remarkably similar to the Feydeau farce they are turgidly performing every night – how they hate its bourgeois moralising, man. Meanwhile, back in Quebec (shot in black-and-white to indicate mock seriousness) a cabal of scheming Free Quebec plotters are having their own increasingly handbaggy bitchfight, shades of Monty Python’s People’s Liberation Front of Judea. Wry, dense, politically engaged and unembarrassedly intelligent, No is unusual cinematic fare well worth checking out.
© Steve Morrissey 1999