1992, Colour, 35 mm, 104 min, English and French

In TECTONIC PLATES the single image of plate tectonics -- the inexorable shifting of the landmasses which support the earth's continents -- becomes a metaphor for the evolution of human life and culture, of the forces and restraints that shape the way we think, act and feel.

The story criss-crosses the globe, following the seemingly random, yet intricate interaction of events and individuals that shape the life and art of a French Canadian painter, Madeleine. As Madeleine's memories, visions and collisions with other lives shift through both time and space [-- from continent to continent, epoch to epoch --] the film explores the relative and ephemeral nature of our political, cultural, sexual and personal boundaries.

TECTONIC PLATES is a complex and evocative voyage into the geology of human behaviour which explores, explodes and cross-fertilizes theatrical and cinematic forms.

Conceived as a continuously evolving international project, Théâtre Répère and director Robert Lepage from Quebec presented the play Tectonic Plates time and again in stunningly fresh and astonishing ways. Spawned from the images of plate tectonics, the geology of continental drift serves as a powerful metaphor for themes of merging, collision, influence, passage, developing creativity as manifest in the natural world, art world, relationships and sexuality. Mettler felt a strong kinship with the play's content and the company's fast and improvisational working method which gave expression to multi-layered levels of a central idea. After watching the play evolve through this collective process Mettler then wrote a filmic adaptation.

Tectonic Plates recalls the events and individuals that shape the life and art of the painter Madeleine. She, and aspiring art student, and the deaf-mute librarian Antoine are both unhappily in love with the art instructor Jacques. When Jacques disappears without a trace, Madeleine decides to travel from  Montreal to Venice to commit suicide in this romantic place. There she meets the young heroin addict Constance. They spend the night together , and Constance lures Madeleine into her first heroin-enhanced experience and unknown erotic territory. Deeply troubled by her unresolved relationship with her father; Constance drowns herself, leaving Madeleine to continue her search for a way of life. Twenty years later she encounters Antoine again. He has discovered that, in the meantime, Jacques has assumed a female identity as a transvestite named Jennifer. Spontaneously, Antoine travels to New York to look for Jacques/Jennifer, where his visit sets off a new series of revelations.
Against the background of these associatively narrated stories, spirits of personalities of the past are relived; Frédéric Chopin, George Sand, Jim Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, Shakespeare's Ophelia and the Nordic goddess Skadi.
Combining original theatrical elements with filmic methods, Tectonic Plates acts as a freezing in time of both the theme and process of the play. The camera takes the spectator out of the theatre seat, allowing new and different viewing perspectives. Rear projections, nearly  imperceptible dissolves and surprising  superimpositions create a dense visual web uniting the fates  of different characters and simultaneous events with cultural, emotional and sexual contrasts.

Based on a stage play by Robert Lepage and Théâtre Repère

Director, Adaptation; Peter Mettler
Camera: Miroslaw Baszak, Peter Mettler
Sound Recording: Jack Buchanan, Catherine v.d. Donckt
Picture Editing: Mike Munn
Sound Editing: Jane Tattersall, Marta Nielson, Peter Mettler
Music: Michel Gosselin, Frédéric Chopin, Yuval Fichman
Sound Mix: Lou Solakofski, Peter Kelly
Producers: Debra Hauer, Niv Fichman
Production: Rhombus Media and Hauer-Rawlence Productions. Commissioned by Channel 4 Britain, CBC and Société Radio Canada. With the Participation of the National Arts Centre, TVO, Telefilm Canada and the Ontario Film Development Corporation
Cast: Michael Benson (Waiter),  Normand Bissonnette ( Kevin/Chopin), Céline Bonnier (Constance), Boyd Clack (Rhys), John Cobb ( Auctioneer), Lorraine Côté (Skadi/George Sand), Richard Fréchette ( Antoine), Emma Davie
(Psychoanalyst), Marie Gignac (Madeleine), Robert Lepage (Jacques/ Jennifer), François Pick (M. Bourbon), Jim Twaddle( Sailor), et al
Shooting Locations: Toronto, Montreal, Venice, Paris, New York, Isle of Skye


"...a terrific rendition of Robert Lepage's play TECTONIC PLATES."
– Margaret Borschke, EYE WEEKLY, Toronto
"A unique collaboration between two of Canada's most highly acclaimed artistic visionaries. TECTONIC PLATES -- the film -- is much more than a simple adaptation of Robert Lepage's original stage version, as it explores, explodes and cross-fertilizes the conventions, abstractions and illusions of theatrical and cinematic forms."
"The mix of stage and screen is magical. It is as if one is witnessing a one-of-a-kind performance with all the visual effects of the cinema...Its characters are moving, its images unsettling. TECTONIC PLATES drifts mesmerizingly across the screen and is not easily forgettable."
– Beatrice Van Dijk, MCGILL DAILY, Montreal
"TECTONIC PLATES must be seen to be fully appreciated or understood. To detail the 'plot' and images of TECTONIC PLATES is to radically reduce its unusual, imaginative kaleidoscope elements..."
"Mettler's command of lyrical images is staggering."
– Bruce Kirkland, THE TORONTO SUN
"Partout ou passe Lepage, l'herbe repousse, reassurez-vous...Cette façon qu'il a de marier à la scène une imagerie d'ordinaire cinématographique fait de lui un auteur-concepteur et un metteur en scène à part."
"The play was from inception, a lyrical, thematically dense and highly theatrical work about memory, identity, art and evolution. Over time, it acquired an epic richness that has since been developed and exploited to maximum effect in Peter Mettler's remarkable film treatment...In his eloquent and richly satisfying treatment of [TECTONIC PLATES], Mettler demonstrates once again that he is arguably the most versatile and intuitive of contemporary Canadian filmmakers. A master of formalism, his idiosyncratic and highly personal approach to composition, movement, montage, and soundscape are evidence of a fresh, distinct, and highly articulate film language. Call it "Mettler-vision" or "Mettler-ama".
– Jeremy Podeswa, FESTIVAL MAGAZINE, Toronto
"It is a bizarre understatement to call Peter Mettler's...film TECTONIC PLATES merely unique. No other film in history has created a visual and emotional parallel between a planet-sized geological concept and a person-sized romantic trauma...The image drift is so hypnotic that my own little continent keeps bumping into the film, creating interesting seismic disturbances."
– Bruce Kirkland, THE TORONTO SUN
"The flow of Mettler's vision is uncommon, indeed it is extraordinary."
– Denis Seguin, METROPOLIS, Toronto
"Mettler offers a unique audio-visual interpretation of this fascinating play without sacrificing its complexity...Mettler's adaptation is not a straightforward narrative. Instead, he weaves theatrical and cinematic elements into a tapestry of changing images, characters, and situations. The result is a story that seamlessly shifts between languages and cultures... What Mettler finds most appealing about Lepage is his approach to theatre as an open process. 'I'm attracted to the improvisational way he and Théâtre Repère arrive at scripts. The fact that the piece is malleable -- you can shift things around from one performance to the next -- is fascinating. What they are essentially doing is constantly re-editing the piece. It's something I would love to apply to film, but it's incredibly difficult. 'A choice had to be made whether my project was to turn TECTONIC PLATES into a real film, to shoot it as a play, or attempt an experimental merging of the two. I opted for the latter. My biggest challenge was then trying to balance the black void of the theatre with the 'real world' of cinema."
– Martin Siberok, MONTREAL MIRROR
Ceux qui ont vu la pièce ne seront pas déçus par le travail de Peter Mettler. On a souvent vu des captations de pièces de théâtre ou des adaptations qui dénaturaient souvent l'oeuvre. Cette fois-ci la démarche est nouvelle. Ce n'est pas du théâtre ni du cinéma mais presque un nouvel art qui se situerait entre les deux. Dans la pièce on parle des grandes villes du monde, on les invente sur scène, dans le film on y est...L'entreprise est révolutionnaire... Un jour, les meilleures pièces demeureront et on pourra mesurer le cheminement des grands auteurs. S'il était impossible de rendre justice au théâtre et a ses comédiens en utilisant les moyens cinématographiques dans le passé, il en est tout autrement aujourd'hui...Et c'est dans ce sens qu'on peut parler d'un art nouveau...On peut déjà voir ce qui s'annonce pour l'avenir avec LES PLAQUES TECTONIQUES."
– Jean Beaunoyer, LA PRESSE
"...si vous n'êtes pas alles voir LES PLAQUES TECTONIQUES, accrochez-vous! C'est maintenant LES PLAQUES qui vont venire à vous."
– G. Privet, VOIR, Montreal
"Mettler carries off the film with a combination of unforgettable images, artful performances and a kind of inexorable intelligence that guides his working out of the theme."
– Cameron Bailey, NOW MAGAZINE
"The ensuing randomness of encounters and their almost violent intensity are stark in the beauty of their depiction and deeply moving in the relentless progress of their occurrence. Peter Mettler has managed to communicate profoundly intimate yet universal sentiments in a radically transforming cinematic style."
"...dualities -- body and soul, hearing and sight, man and woman, French and English -- are masterfully explored, and the story's lesson is clear. The barriers are arbitrary; crossing them, accepting them and, finally, integrating them, is the business of art."
– Liam Lacy, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, Toronto
"Peter Mettler is a visionary in the purest sense."
– Martin Siberok, MONTREAL MIRROR

"...Filme, die mehr mit dem Bild als mit dem Wort arbeiten...brillant, in Peter Mettlers Langspielfilm TECTONIC PLATES: die Geschichte eines Lebens, einer Liebe, ein Essay über das Wesen des Romantishcen, ein einziges Fliessen von Bildern, Gedanken, Assoziationen."
– Verena Zimmermann, ST. GALLER TAGBLATT
"Er macht überraschendes, intelligentes Kino mit ungewohnten Bildern und Perspektiven und einer sehr persönlichen Menschlichkeit....seiner filmischen Wirklichkeit ein poetisches Spektakel, voller Zuneigung, Schmerz und Komik. Peter Mettler hat die Theatersequenzen mit grosser Raffinesse filmisch zusammengefügt. Zu den vielen Bühnenszene geselien sich grandiose Unterwasserbewegungen, die immer wieder in einem flachen Becken auf der Bühne enden oder von ihm ausgehen. So bewegt sich der Film von Venedig ins schottische Hochland, nach New York oder in ein imaginiertes Paris... TECTONIC PLATES ist eine perfekte Synthese von theatralischen und filmischen Mitteln. Der Film ist so einfallsreich wie grossherzig, so komisch wie tragisch, und vor allem in jeder Sekunde gleich faszinierend. Wenn Kino davon lebt, dass es in seiner knapp hundertjährigen Geschichte vom Kitsch bis zum abstrakten Kunstwerk alles in gegenseitiger Abhängigkeit hervorgebracht hat, dann lebt dieser Film in der Tat von der absoluten Essenz dessen, was filmisch machbar scheint."
– Michael Sennhauser, OLTNER TAGBLATT
"Die Frage, was ist wirklich, aber auch, wie theatralisch kann Film, oder umgekehrt, wie filmisch kann Theater sein, stellt sich unwillkürlich...Kunstlerisch gesehen hat TECTONIC PLATES jedoch an den diesjährigen Filmtagen seinesgleichen gesucht."
– Roland Vogler, TAGES-ANZEIGER
"Mettler hat ein neues Kapitel der Beziehung zwischen Theater und Kunst geschrieben, die Eigenheiten beider bewahrt und sie dennoch zu einer neuen Einheit verschmilzt. Die Technik der Schnittstellen versetzt den Zuschauer in Staunen, die Bilder und ihr Gehalt erschliessen sich nicht sofort, haben aber oft eine emotionale Wucht, die erst lange nach dem Kino verarbeitet werden kann..."
"...ein einziges Fliessen von Bildern, Gedanken, Assoziationen...Peter Mettler setzt die Theaterarbeit um und fort, mit filmischen Mitteln, die Grenzen auflösen, das Fliessen zum Thema machen. Der Film hält fest, und doch bleibt alles Bewegung."
– Verena Zimmermann
"...hinreissenden Werk...TECTONIC PLATES ist eine gelungene Verschmelzung von Theater und Kino."
– Thomas Müller, TAGESSPIEGEL
"Den interessantesten Spielfilm präsentierte der in Kanada lebende Peter Mettler mit seiner Theateradaptation TECTONIC PLATES...TECTONIC PLATES ist ein Kaleidoskop verschiedenster Bilder und Szenen, faszinerend montiert, hervorragend gespielt."
– Alex Dupont, LINHE BLATTER


Screened at many International festivals including Rotterdam, Jerusalem, San Sebastian, Toronto, Montreal, Vienna. Prize winner in Mannheim, Figueira da Foz and Columbus, Ohio. Limited Theatrical release and TV broadcast.

BEST ART DIRECTION, Curtis Wehrfritz

THE CATHOLIC JURY PRIZE, "The Best Film of the Festival."
Jury's Statement: 
"TECTONIC PLATES is the most aesthetically sophisticated film of the festival... a convincing synthesis of differing art forms with brilliantly flowing transitions between theatre and cinema... It is a film which demonstrates new possibilities for looking at life and at art."

"The Most Creative or Innovative Film of the Festival"



Articles/Reviews - English
Articles/Reviews - German
High-Res Stills
Dialogue List - English


To begin – there is an image.
A catalyst leading to the discovery of untold stories.
Our own stories, waiting to unfold -- horizontally -- vertically...

These stories have emerged as performances
in rehearsal halls and theatres across Canada and Great Britain,
each offering a different arrangement of elements.

This filmic adaptation has become part of an evolving process, freezing in time a living work that has been shifting throughout the last five years.


When, early this century, the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener proposed that all the continents were once joined in a single supercontinent (Pangea), that the supercontinent had broken up about 200 million years ago and that the continents have been drifting over the surface of the globe ever since, the geological establishment was aghast. For over a hundred years, geologists had been building a vast edifice of knowledge based on the assumption that the landmasses had been fixed in the same positions since they had formed billions of years ago. To see this intellectual construction collapse -- and at the hands of a non-geological outsider at that -- was more than they could contemplate. Wegener was branded a crank.

This remained more or less the position for about 50 years until, around 1960, something remarkable happened. Scientists from quite a different discipline (physics), who for reasons of their own were studying the magnetic properties of rocks, suddenly discovered that they could use their data to demonstrate that the continents had indeed drifted. Within a few years the geological community could no longer ignore the truth.

Other discoveries rapidly followed. It soon became clear that not only were the continents in motion, the ocean floors were moving (spreading) too. Indeed, the ocean floors were the prime movers, pushing the continents along. Landmasses are merely passive rafts, going where the spreading ocean floors choose to direct them.

By the late 1960s, Earth scientists had come to realize that continental drift and ocean-floor spreading are themselves only part of a much wider pattern, now known as plate tectonics. The Earth's hard outer shell, the lithosphere, is not a single world-embracing unit but is divided into a dozen or so independent rigid segments ("plates") of various sizes. Within each plate (except for the Pacific plate, which is entirely oceanic) there are spreading ocean floors pushing along continents, changing the sizes and shapes of the plates as they do so.

But these within-plate processes are comparatively gentle; the continents and ocean floors move at rates of just a few centimeters a year. The zones crucial to life -- and death -- are the boundaries between plates, where the plates jostle against, and interact with, each other. These are the regions in which molten rock from the deep Earth rises to the surface, or where cold spreading ocean floor plunges back down into the interior, or where continents collide to throw up mountains, or simply where the plates slide past each other on giant faults. These are the violent places of Earth, scenes of most earthquakes and volcanoes. 

Mettler and Lepage have used plate tectonics as an extended metaphor for human relationships, but in reality it's much more than that. It's the very condition upon which life itself exists. Without the vast mobility it brings, the Earth's surface would be as barren and lifeless as that of our sister planet Venus. Without the escape routes it has provided for fluids from the Earth's deep interior, there would be no ocean waters and no atmosphere, and hence no flora and fauna -- no us.

Excerpted from a piece by Dr. Peter J. Smith, a Reader in Earth Sciences at the Open University and Editor of Geology Today magazine.


Quebec City, Canada. 16 November 1989. Auberge du Quartier.
TECTONIC PLATES, the play, viewed for the first time. The residual feelings are those of movement. As I awake in the middle of the night the passing vehicles outside the window remind me of the plates. My senses only feel the cars moving towards each other –  yet I've been made aware of the subtle movement of our earth. The characters on the surface mix much faster than their ground does. Cultures clash; indentities blur; people struggle to keep them while past lives become articulate – in memory – in the present.

Glasgow, Scotland. 1 November 1990. 52 Charlotte Street. Here, a year later, I've hopped the Atlantic, which now separates what used to be the same place – the same plate – to arrive in Glasgow. These days mark the beginning of an exploratory process to translate this magnificent and elusive theatre piece into cinema. I don't picture a film that will document how Thèâtre Repère operates, nor do I see a traditional filming of the piece as it appears on stage. Instead I would like to follow the system belonging to the theatre piece itself – using improvisation and the often irrational parts of our being to construct, or sculpt, the cinematic version.

If the film can add another dimension to this work, I feel it lies in the ability to take the eye – the camera – the audience – out of the theatre seat into some further layers to view parts of the drifting people, places, times and dimensions that make up the play. Underwater in the canals of Venice, through the old stones of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and into the memories and visions of the characters that populate these places. Today, again, I awake in the middle of the night – dreaming a way to converge yet two more masses – theatre and film.


Conceived in 1987 as a continuously evolving international stage project, the first ... PLATES were formed in June 1988 by Robert Lepage, his regular core of author-performers in Theatre Repère and the Canadian designer Michael Levine. The result -- a work in progress -- was shown during the World Stage Festival at Harbourfront, Toronto, in a former ice-house.

Through the collaboration of Montreal's Festival de Thèâtre des Amériques, a restructured version of TECTONIC PLATES, the play, was presented in November 1989 at Theatre Repère's Quebec home base -- a one time synagogue where the Company still seem to share offices with the local Rabbi. This version of the work, whilst rooted in similar emotional and narrative concerns, had undergone a radical re-edit. What Lepage and company had created was a flexible, modular structure which allowed TECTONIC PLATES to be taken apart and put back together in different ways so that it could easily incorporate the integration of performers and ideas from other cultures.

In January of 1990, Lepage and Theatre Repère mainstay Marie Gignac arrived in Glasgow. A mixed group of Scottish and Welsh performers were chosen from a great many interviews, to be lead in a week long workshop. Day One began with each participant randomly selecting a piece of the world from a cartographic jigsaw puzzle and improvising from it. Day Six ended with a short presentation where an invited audience watched an intriguing series of sequences (or "plates") delivered by an ensemble that looked as though it had been together far longer than a week.

From this process a small group of performers were chosen and invited to join the TECTONIC PLATES company on its next adventure. These five travelled to Montreal in April 1990 to see the third version of the work which took place in the disused waiting room of the Gare Jean Talon. During the day, Lepage led a series of workshops on set and began the process of integration which would lead to the Glasgow version of TECTONIC PLATES which was presented at the Royal National Theatre, London, in November/December 1990. In the Summer of 1991, this version then skipped continents and was presented at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. In 1992 TECTONIC PLATES, the play, settled in Barcelona where the Celtic/Quebecois mix is further enriched by the addition of a group of Catalan performers.

Peter Mettler's filmic version of TECTONIC PLATES preserved the essence of this evolving project by using the performers of the final stage versions, but also charted its own course while charting the final stages of this work's intercontinental drift.

"TECTONIC PLATES has the quality of a modern epic...the clash of personal, national and cultural identities has a symphonic breadth, an intellectual playfulness and an emotional lyricism which creates a ... masterpiece."   
– James Mavor, The Independent
"...it's like blindly picking out a series of pictures from a children's lotto. You pick a cow, a sun, a house, a map of France. Now try telling me a story that connects all four images. You'll see how easy it is. And what's more, each person will compose a different story..."
– Marie Gignac, Thèâtre Repère
"...it is a matter of interrogating a chosen object on the assumption that it contains hidden links with other objects across space and time. It is like digging into the Earth's crust, through successive strata of history, myth and archetype; so that individual characters emerge as Matrioshka dolls, and a hippie suicide merges with Delacroix's portrait of the drowned Ophelia and the fate of that picture in the auction room ("Going, going, gone!")."
– Irving Wardle, The Independent
"There is no score to TECTONIC PLATES. Stories and themes are fractured on every level and in every version we worked on we juggled scenes until we found a connection. It's like a house of cards: if one connection goes, the whole thing can come tumbling down. It happened in Montreal with our second version. Five days before opening we suddenly discovered we had a missing piece, had to cancel and lost I don't know how many thousands of dollars. But that was the law of the show."
– Robert Lepage
"Drifting does not only mean being lost, it also means colliding into other drifters...It's about breaking up, it's about getting together. On a personal level it can be about meeting somebody, on a universal level it can be about one culture meeting another. It is also the psychological movement that can occur inside of one character."
– Robert Lepage
"The last thing is simplicity. After having gone the difficulties, having played an endless number of notes, it is simplicity that matters, with all its charm. It is the final seal on art. Anyone who strives for this to begin with will be disappointed. You cannot begin at the end."
– Frederic Chopin


Thèâtre Repère was founded in 1980 by Jacques Lessard who was then joined by Robert Lepage in 1982. The name of the company refers to the dramatic system which became the foundation for most of their work, including TECTONIC PLATES. REsources, Partition, Evaluation, REpresentation -- Repère. It is a method which uses a sign, object or image, as opposed to a theme, as the starting point for the creation of a new piece of theatre. The sign or object (REsource) accumulates meaning and stories as it grows into a theatrical score which is continually re-invented, even after the play has premiered. The work is highly visual and draws on a firm belief that the actors and audience should be united through the experience of theatre.

In addition to numerous independent directing and acting projects which have won Lepage an international reputation, he has created many original works for Thèâtre Repère including: EN ATTENDANT (1982); CIRCULATIONS (1984-85); THE DRAGONS' TRILOGY from 1985-92 (winner of the 1988 Public's Prize for the Best Theatrical Show of the year, the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best Direction, and Best Show of the year in 1987 awarded independently by both the Ottawa Board of Critics and the Québec Theatre Critics Association, as well as the Grand Prize at the Festival des Amériques); VINCI in 1986 (winner of Best Creation at Festival of Nyon, Best Production at the Festival of Avignon and Best Direction awarded by the Québec Theatre Critics Association); POLYGRAPH from 1988-92 (winner of 1991 Chalmer's award); TECTONIC PLATES (1988-91); and in 1991 LES AGUILLES ET L'OPIUM (winner of Le Prix Orange, Radio-Canada). Lately, Lepage has directed a much acclaimed version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM for the Royal National Theatre in London.

Rhombus Media is a leading independent producer of high-quality television programs on the performing arts. They have received well over 100 honours at many international festivals, including a 1986 Academy Award nomination for MAKING OVERTURES -- THE STORY OF A COMMUNITY ORCHESTRA, a 1988 Primetime Emmy nomination for ALL THAT BACH, and a 1991 International Emmy for LE DORTOIR. Rhombus' first venture into dramatic feature films occurred as co-producers for Peter Mettler's THE TOP OF HIS HEAD. While other performing arts films such as THIRTY-TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD and THE SORCERESS (based on a Baroque operatic fantasy) are currently in the works, TECTONIC PLATES is an excellent addition to Rhombus' portfolio as it interweaves the documenting of the performing arts with the demands of a feature length dramatic film.

Debra Hauer and Chris Rawlence began their producer/director collaboration in 1986 with the acclaimed television production of Michael Nyman's opera THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT. Hauer Rawlence Productions was formed in 1990 after the success of several arts and science programmes. Their aim to produce distinctive drama, opera and documentaries for screen has already resulted in TOYING WITH THE FUTURE, a psycho-scientific look at children's toys and PATENTLY OBVIOUS -- both for Channel 4's EQUINOX. Current productions include A PLACE OF RAGE, a film featuring black American activists June Jordan and Angela Davis, and KHUSH, both directed by Pratibha Parmar for Channel 4; DEALING IN DIRT, a programme about art restoration shot in Italy for BBC2; and KING OF HEARTS, an original television opera with young American composer Michael Torke. YOUNG, GIFTED AND FRENCH CANADIAN, a documentary for BBC Omnibus about Robert Lepage, will complement the release of TECTONIC PLATES.