Director Annabel Loyola takes us on a journey from Langres, France to Montreal, Canada in A Mad Venture: In The Footsteps Of Jeanne Mance , screening March 29, 2012 as part of the CinÃ©franco Film Festival. Loyola became fascinated by the lost memory of Jeanne Mance, a founder of Montreal who lived 1606 to 1673. As Loyola searches for what motivated Mance to travel across the world to help create Montreal, she also exposes the concept that drives many people to leave their lives behind and move to a new world.
Unfortunately, not much is known about Jeanne Mance and her early life. In fact, it wasn’t until 1932 that her baptismal records were discovered, revealing that she was actually born in Langres, France. From 1642, when Jeanne Mance helped found Montreal, until her death in 1673, we’re able to learn much more about her life and contributions, and her story is certainly a fascinating one. Women of the time were usually resigned to two vocations: marriage or becoming nuns. Mance, on the other hand, avoided both of these life avenues, instead working as a nurse during the Thirty Year War and the plague, finally finding her calling as a missionary. It is this vocation that brings her to Canada, playing a vital role in the creation of Montreal.
Annabel Loyola travels through museums, churches, and excavation sites to discover as much about Jeanne Mance as she can. While some of the areas Mance traveled through in France are grand and beautiful, what is left of her mark in Montreal is seemingly buried below the city we now see. Her contribution to Canada seems to be appreciated more in France than it is here — something that Annabel Loyola would obviously like to change.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film are the reasons that Montreal was founded at all. While many cities in the area were built around the fur trade, Jeanne Mance wanted to build a city for the purpose of healing and helping. The first thing that Mance did was begin running a hospital out of her home. This was her vision for Montreal: a place where everyone could find help. They avoided the fur trade, as well as alcohol, even though it made others rich. This was not their plan. Theirs was a dream of a utopian city, and Jeanne Mance did everything she could to achieve that goal.
If there’s any problem with this documentary, it’s the lack of information available. Mance never wrote memoirs of her life, and so much of her past has been lost to time. Obviously, this isn’t the fault of the filmmaker, but it causes the film to feel like it’s only scratching the surface. Perhaps this is a starting point for Loyola, an opening for even more information to be found. It’s a shame that such an important person could almost be forgotten.