2012/Dans le coeur documentary review

2012/Dans le cœur views the student strikes and police tyranny from the inside

3 out of 5 stars

Using archival footage taken during the 2012 strikes, Rodrigue Jean and Arnaud Valade’s 2012/Dans le cœur documentary reframes the student protests through a wide lens of police expansion and brutality. Observing through the eyes of the movement, we are witnesses to the dizzying self-documentation of one of Canada’s most significant social movements within the greater struggle against the militarization of the police. Over 10 years removed from the initial protests, the sense of celebration and radicalism has taken on a sombre tone, however, marked by a growing sense of ineptitude against power.

What’s immediately interesting about the framing of the montage within the film is how it underlines the presence of the police. For those who remember 2012 and the constant framing of the authority as guardians of the peace, the edit here suggests a reality closer to the truth: that the police serve no one but the powerful. The police don’t guard the people’s ability to protest or seek to protect the most vulnerable members of society — they protect industry, politics and authority.

What’s particularly striking about the images chosen here, which differ from those offered at the time, is the inclusion of scenes of industry and political leaders. Overwhelmingly, the tone of sequences of the pushers of expensive and destructive plans like Plan Nord is a passive smugness. Whether observing from the interior of the Palais de congrès or the conference hall in Victoriaville, the passionate mass fighting for their rights never emerges as something more than a minor inconvenience. The system in place exists to serve and protect them. 

2012/Dans le coeur documentary review
2012/Dans le cœur, a documentary by Rodrigue Jean and Arnaud Valade

Through the voice-over narration, how these structures operate comes into greater focus. It’s not just the increases in police budgets that contribute to their power. The film further indicts the role of traditional media, which tends to publish the POV of the police uncritically. In part because these organizations are aligned with power and also that they’re afraid to lose access to sources, they toe the line, framing the narrative as protesters as villains. While communicating as objective truth-tellers, they intentionally use language and their own institutional power to affirm the status quo. 

For those unfamiliar with the events of the 2012 student protests, this documentary illuminates the atmosphere more than the day-to-day events. It captures the whirlwind feeling of being a part of a collective, which was mostly peaceful and consistently organized. The voice-over does occasionally feel like an afterthought, integrated only as a means of drawing out parallels beyond the events of that summer. 

Compared with other documentaries like In the Intense Now (João Moreira Salles), also about failed revolutions, this film feels as though it lacks scope. It feels insular and minor. Where Salles’s film has a melancholy perspective on the idea of revolution, suggesting a kind of inevitable failure in momentum, 2012/Dans le cœur fails to capture an ongoing sense of urgency. Despite connecting the events to a greater struggle, it still feels limited and stagnant, allowing nostalgia to cloud any real sense of impetus. 

In many ways, the film ends up feeling incomplete. It captures a whisper of meaning, and though it has the potential to inspire and motivate, it feels unfinished, like a stepping stone to some grander point that never quite emerges. Still a vital document of the people’s will, which extends to their ability to take power over their image, 2012/Dans le cœur stands as an intimate and occasionally exciting exploration of people standing up for their ideals and their rights. ■

2012/Dans le cœur (directed by Rodrigue Jean and Arnaud Valade)

2012/Dans le cœur opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, March 31.

For our latest in film and TV, please visit the Film & TV section.