Prayer for a Lost Mitten

Prayer for a Lost Mitten is essential viewing if you love Montreal

A documentary by Jean-François Lesage about interactions in the lost & found department of our public transit system.

It’s a dark night as the snow falls in the opening shot of Jean-François Lesage’s latest documentary, Prayer for a Lost Mitten. The black and white photography renders the soft snowfall a silvery tone. A jazzy music score invites us into the soothing rhythms of a perfect winter night. Lesage’s documentary style blurs the lines between reality and fiction and showcases the most intimate human desires through careful questioning. This documentary focuses on the lost and found of the STM and the people searching for their objects. 

The film is structured in different sections. First, we are behind the glass at the lost and found. We see the different people approaching as well as the faint reflections of the workers who guard the found things. People are presented with boxes of glasses and mittens. Sometimes they find what they’re looking for; other times, they’re not so lucky. The crisp sound of sorting through objects soft and hard evokes the feeling of popular ASMR videos. In the background, we hear the swell of passing crowds and the comforting voice of the STM announcer.

Some searchers are interviewed in greater depth about their lost objects and why they matter. What is it about a specific hat or book that makes it worth finding? What lost things do we mourn, and which ones do we forget about? The film might inquire over mundane inconveniences, but it illuminates the power objects to hold memories and meaning. Discussing these objects opens up different subjects to discuss their passions, families, and their pasts.  

The choice of subjects feels almost accidental, which makes it all the more beautiful. People are joined by a common need (to find something lost) and a specific location (the lost and found) and not much else. It creates a very democratic approach to a broad subject that feels universal and incredibly specific.

Lesage has made several similar documentaries, rallying around specific themes and places rather than driven by a topic or specific subject. The tone of his (unheard) questions force interiority, often erring on the philosophical side of things. His films are consistently optimistic, seeing hope and beauty in the world. His optimism is both jarring and outmoded but he manages to make it fresh. It can be off-putting for an audience hardened by cynicism, but his commitment to humanism is also admirable, particularly in a world that often feels jaded and depressing. Even at its most melancholic, just the act of listening and giving space to people’s dreams and fears feels like a radical act of empathy. 

The specific melancholy of this film similarly emerges from the cold relentlessness of Montreal winter. While made very obviously pre-pandemic, the film captures an all too familiar sense of isolation that has marked the past two years. Screened in our current moment, it’s difficult not to imagine what has been lost throughout the pandemic; all those lives with all their little secrets. 

When we discuss the line between reality and fiction in terms of Lesage’s work, it’s often about the profundity of its images and sounds. The questions, necessarily artificial for his goals, are secondary to his subjects’ impossible elegance and environments. Similarly, the film’s beauty lends the whole experience an ethereal quality, rendering the ordinary into something extraordinary. 

Lesage’s film may be slight, and it’s not necessarily my favourite of his movies (I prefer the stranger and more mythic la Rivière Cachée, or maybe I prefer summer). Still, there’s no denying his singular voice within documentaries in Quebec. They’re soft and gentle films that open your eyes to the beauty around you, offering warmth and empathy that approaches reverence. Few recent films have pointed such a tender look on Montreal. It’s essential viewing for anyone who loves the city. 

Prayer for a Lost Mitten opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Dec. 10.

Prayer for a Lost Mitten, directed by Jean-François Lesage

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