Tectonic Plates

UK/Canada / 1992 / 104 minutes

In Tectonic Plates, the 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. As her 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 Robert Lepage 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, including Frédéric Chopin, George Sand, Jim Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, Shakespeare's Ophelia, and the Nordic goddess Skadi.

Combining original theatrical elements and cinematic invention, 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.

Best Film, International Film Festival of Mannheim
Grand Prize,
Columbus International Film & Video Festival
Grand Prize,
Figueira Da Foz Festival
Nominated for Two Genie Awards


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.” – Jury Statement, Mannheim International Film Festival 1993

“Peter Mettler is a visionary in the purest sense. His debut feature, The Top of His Head, was an audio-visual experience that placed him in a class of his own. An innovative adaptation of Robert Lepage's drama, Mettler offers a complex and challenging investigation of human behaviour.” – Martin Siberok, Montreal Mirror

“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… Mettler's command of lyrical images is staggering.” – Bruce Kirkland, The Toronto Sun 

“A terrific rendition of Robert Lepage's play.” – Margaret Borschke, Eye Weekly

“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.” – David MacIntosh, Toronto Festival of Festivals (TIFF)

“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

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.” – Sid Adilman, The Toronto Star

“Charting a course between two conventional and opposite approaches, Mettler neither opens the play up to the point of eradicating its original stage context, nor does he merely plunk the cameras down in front of a theatre performance and start shooting. The result is an intriguing and visually tantalizing collage that bridges the two media in a way that structurally underscores Lepage's themes of convergence, separation and transformation.” – Vit Wagner, The Toronto Star

“In this unique collision of characters and cultures, narrative and metaphor, memory and myth, theatre and film, Mettler and Lepage have woven an evocative and challenging filmic tapestry." – Jeremy Podeswa, Festival Magazine

“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, 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

"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.” – Martin Siberok, Montreal Mirror

“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.” – Alison Vermee, Vancouver International Film Festival

“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

“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." – Franco Nuovo, Le Journal de Montreal 

“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



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)

Shooting Locations: Toronto, Montreal, Venice, Paris, New York, Isle of Skye (Scotland)


Jury Prize, “Best Film of the Festival,” International Film Festival of Mannheim, Germany, 1993

Grand Prize, “Most Creative or Innovative Film of the Festival,” Columbus International Film & Video Festival, Columbus, Ohio, 1993

Grand Prize, “Most Innovative Film of the Festival,” Festival International de Cinema de Figueira Da Foz, Portugal, 1993

Two Genie Award Nominations, Academy of Canadian Cinema, 1993
Best Supporting Actor, Céline Bonnier
Best Art Direction, Curtis Wehrfritz

Screened at many festivals including Rotterdam, Jerusalem, San Sebastian, Toronto, Montreal, Vienna. Theatrical and TV release.