Fennario’s War (41 minutes) is a simple film. The Montreal playwright, David Fennario, reads a text in his Verdun apartment about World War One. He has based his drama on an interview he did with a Great War vet in the 1970s, and Fennario reads the three voices in his script: Gerry Nines, young reporter; Harry “Rosie” Rollins, WWI infantryman; and his best friend, Rummie Robidoux.
On Feb 21, 2009, when Fennario’s War premiered in Montreal at Concordia University’s J.A. De Sève Cinema, the distinguished Quebec cinematographer, Martin Duckworth, spoke at the end of the showing. “I was with David this afternoon,” Duckworth said, ” and he spoke about Wordsworth, Nelligan, and Walt Whitman.” Then Duckworth added: “David is a poet.”
And indeed what David Fennario has been writing recently is deeply poetic, with the meditative character of Whitman’s long poems.
In Fennario’s War the viewer sees a writer at a desk – the face is intense, the eyes both sad and humourous, the fingers of this man reading are long and sensitive as they move in the air, probing and gesturing. The story that emerges speaks of horrible wartime experience seen in a way both real and hallucinatory. This voice evokes memory, its failures and its importance – and dismemberment. We see, in the words, parts of bodies moving through the air, landing wrongly, hopelessly broken: two left feet, a severed arm, features blown to bits. This tearing of the world is not the world as it should be, seen “whole” as Fennario thinks it must be, quoting a famous phrase of Hegel. And like Whitman, Fennario joins the parts together, brings the dead back to life, restores the past to the present, speaks sternly to his time and kindly to the future. Fennario succeeds in evoking what Whitman speaks of in a poem that Fennario likes to quote:
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?
If the future is nothing they are just as surely nothing.
–“To Think of Time”
Fennario in this small, simple film makes the past something so that the future can be something and not nothing. For if we are to have a future, we must make something of the past, we must understand it. In Fennario’s War, Rosie Rollins says of the Battle of Vimy Ridge: “Birth of a Nation they call it. I didn’t see nothing being born.” That is the truth, speaking through the playwright.
Yes, David Fennario is something… a poet of the real.
DVDs of “Fennario’s War” are available for purchase through the site.
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