Analysis: Sound and fury in Parti Quebecois’ Charter of Values video

Watch: The video spot for the PQ’s Charter of Values advertising campaign

MONTREAL – After unveiling its proposals for a Charter of Values, the Parti Quebecois has followed up with a $1.9-million advertising campaign.

To put this into cost into perspective, the Harper government paid $1.64-million for a series of advertisements during the Olympic Games coverage to promote the War of 1812’s 200th anniversary.

Like that ad campaign, the Quebec government is taking some heat for spending taxpayer dollars on what some are calling propaganda.

But is it? Global News asked Dr. Martin Lefebvre, a Research Chair in Film Studies and professor at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University, to take a look at the video spot and share his impressions.

“This is a rather depressing little bit of audio-visual design,” said Lefebvre. “It isn’t quite filmmaking as far as I’m concerned,”

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Here’s a look at how he unpacked the language, sound and visuals in the rest of the video.

No matter how you cut it, wall symbolism is never positive.

charter of values ad
Image taken from the Parti Quebecois’ advertising campaign video for its proposed Charter of Values.

A wall is always a barrier, it either stops something from coming in or it stops something from coming out, depending on which side you’re on.

Walls can protect (from the elements, from enemy attack, etc., always from something “negative”), but they can also imprison.

In conjunction with the religious topic here, and the fact that behind this issue lies that of alterity (identity is always a matter of alterity – or “otherness”), the various connotations or associated symbolisms are pretty much all problematic.

Is this our new “Wall of shame”, a “Wailing Wall”, “our own Berlin Wall”, the wall of a prison, that of a cul-de-sac? Why are the only religions mentioned in the spot the three great monotheisms?

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The music is also sombre, in what appears to be exactly the same tonality as John Williams’ score for the movie Shindler’s List.

Listen to a sample of the score from the movie here (in particular from 2:02):

Sufficiently similar, at least, to suggest that the Middle East is perhaps what is at stake here in the imagination of the spot’s designers.

Notice that the terms associated with Christianity, for example “Église” (Church) and “Bible” always come last in the order of words, while the terms associated with Judaism and Islam: “Synagogue,” “Mosquée” (Mosque); “Coran” (Koran) and “Torah” permutate the order of appearance of these religions.

Charter of values ad still
Image taken from the Parti Quebecois’ advertising campaign video for its proposed Charter of Values.

This could signal, perhaps, the fact that it is these religions that are at issue, or are being addressed, and not Christianity.

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There is also much word play. In French-speaking Canada, the sacred is also profane.

The spot begins with Québécois swear words associated with anger (“tabernacle,” “ciboire”), which again reflect negativity.

Charter of Values ad still
Image taken from the Parti Quebecois’ advertising campaign video for its proposed Charter of Values. File

It then moves to religious terms superimposed onto the wall. The running term “sacré” (sacred) can also be pronounced as “sacrer” which, in Quebec, means to swear.

Are we to understand that all the words that come up are forms of swearing as well?

It’s important to understand that this is not necessarily the message of the spot or of the government, but the message is toying with associations of negativity and symbolism that it should have avoided at all costs.

Of the designers of the spot and of those who approved it, one only wishes one could say: “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing…”