The most ambitious of the fall’s high-profile releases, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore, launched in Quebec immediately after screening at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Opening in second position of the Quebec box office, it earned $1 million by mid-October. On top of that, the movie got named best Canadian picture at the Atlantic Film Festival.
Vallée’s first movie since Young Victoria (2009), his English-language follow-up to the transcendent C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005), Café de Flore sports a complicated, time-traveling structure, but at heart it’s an operatically romantic, multi-layered love story. For starters, Antoine (singer Kevin Parent in his acting debut) adores his new wife, the shimmering blonde Rose (Evelyne Brochu), and his two young daughters (Joanny Corbeil-Picher, Rosalie Fortier). Our richly blessed hero fathered these chidren with his previous soulmate, Carole (Hélène Florent), who never stopped loving him and can’t accept the death of the relationship.
While Antoine, a high-flying DJ, traipses around the world, high on music and life’s other joys, dark-haired Carole suffers tormenting dreams, visions, and mysterious hallucinations that somehow link Antoine to another love story, which we see unfolding in 1960’s Paris.
Both Antoine and Carole are oblivious to the long-ago existence of single mother Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), who devotes such unconditional, even obsessive love to her 7-year-old son Laurent (Martin Gerrier), she might be harming the little boy. Laurent has Down’s syndrome, which according to Vallée, is a mental state, not a disease. In yet another love story, the exuberantly outgoing boy worships Vero, a little girl who’s like him. (Vallée told me during a TIFF interview, that Gerrier and the child who plays Vero live in the same group home for Down’s kids, and hope they will marry one day.)
In a grim Parisian quartier, Jacqueline’s harsh life contrasts with the sleek surfaces and warm comforts Antoine enjoys. However, he occasionally plunges into dark moods, a possible clue to the connection between him and the woman who lived out her soulmate story before he was born. The movie takes its time getting to its revelation of how exactly the past and present intertwine. And then, “bang, the information gets in,” says Vallée. “You start understanding that it’s about past lives.”
In Café de Flore, the writer-director was aiming at a feeling of “magical, mystical moments. Life is bigger than any of us, the movie is saying. I like films like The Sixth Sense, The Others, and Let the Right One In. Their worlds look real, but then there’s something wild, something supernatural.” To take the viewer deep into the mystic, Vallée deploys quick cuts, jump cuts, flashbacks, flashforwards, and enigmatic inserts. The music, which is always crucial for the writer-director, who says he would have been a DJ in another life, features multiple versions of the title tune, dance tracks, and big dollops of Icelandic band Sigur Ros’ trance music.
Writer-director Guy Édoin is currently riding a wave of positive energy that started at the Venice Film Festival, where his debut feature Marécages (Wetlands) got a standing ovation, continued through to launching the Canada First lineup of debuts at the Toronto International Film Festival, picked up an honourable mention for best Canadian film at the Vancouver Film Festival, and was programmed at numerous other fests ranging from Namur’s in Belgium to Pusan’s in South Korea.
The picture, shot on Édoin’s parents’ family farm, depicts a world that is simultaneously beautiful and tainted with human pain, an Eden infected by guilt, anger, and bad sexual vibes. The first image of Marécages, a long take of a naked woman walking through high grass, looks paradisial, but the tense expression on her face says otherwise.
The woman is Marie (Pascale Bussières), a farm wife who loves her husband Jean (Luc Picard), but resents her seventeen-year-old son Simon (Gabriel Mille), whose carelessness may have led to the death of his younger brother. When another catastrophic event occurs, Marie is again suspicious of Simon, who throughout the film, seems to be discovering an attraction to men. Things get even more complicated when a taciturn outsider (François Papineau), who obviously thinks Marie is hot, enters the scene.
During TIFF, I asked Édoin whether Simon is a little like James Dean’s character in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden (1955), a young man who acts out destructive impulses toward his own family. Is it possible that Marie’s suspicions of him are justified? “I really love the ambiguity,” Édoin said. “I constantly work on ambiguity.”
For Pascale Bussières, East of Eden is a “good reference. The film has scope from a cinematic point-of-view. Guy lifts the story to the level of tragedy. The characters become archetypes, and the movie departs a little from reality.” Moreover, Édoin and his DP Serge Desrosiers filmed classically in 35mm widescreen, inspired by directors Terrence Malick and Michelangelo Antonioni, not to mention westerns, and the paintings of Edward Hopper and Caravaggio. Except for a few shot corrections, the lush visuals were created without digital enhancement. Édoin likes film to be “alive, organic, particles of light dancing on the screen.”
And Bussières, who was initially wary of the script’s darkness, sees in Marécages “the brightness of the film itself, not necessarily the narrative.” As for her character, “Marie keeps herself at a distance to protect herself from going totally crazy. When we enter the film, she’s already trying to recover from the loss of her first child, and then she suffers more loss. She’s in an impossible situation psychologically. The exits are blocked everywhere.”
Over the past ten years, producer Kevin Tierney has finessed an ambitious slate of movies that included Varian's War (2001), The Trotsky (2009), Good Neighbours (2010), and the hugely successful, bilingual comedy, Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006). For his directorial debut, Tierney brainstormed with writer Jefferson Lewis (Emotional Arithmetic), and the duo came up with a picture that giggles at the communication breakdown between French and English Canadians, while lampooning various time-honoured Québécois foibles.
Tierney’s French Immersion, subtitled C'est la faute à Trudeau (It’s All Trudeau’s Fault), is an ensemble comedy tracking the misadventures of Anglos who enrol in a government backed French immersion program. Of the many characters playing out numerous situations, the principals include four English-Canadians and a New Yorker who head for a nowherseville Quebec town to learn French at the pompously named Institut Linguistique de St. Isidore-du-Coeur-de-Jésus.
The movie’s hectic opening zeroes in on the students’ arrival in St. Isidore etc., an underachieving burg that depends on the Institut for its existence. The focal-point Anglos are air hostess Aretha Marley (Olunike Adeliyi), federal employee Cathy O’Reilly (Martha Burns), hustling politician Bobby Sexton (Gavin Crawford, pictured at right), regular guy Colin MacGonagle (Fred Ewanuick) and burgeoning New York chef Jonathan Hornstein (Jacob Tierney). Sexton, a gay Newfoundler, wants to bone up on French to enhance his chances in an election battle with the Trudeauesque Michael Pontifikator (Colm Feore), a cartoon figure simultaneously parodying one of the most successful politicians in Canadian history, and one of the biggest failures.
As the movie progresses, Sexton becomes embroiled in a political machination with the school director, (Pascale Bussières) and her father, Senator Tremblay, (1960’s era rock legend Robert Charlebois), who recalls another blast from the past, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Apart from this story thread, the film consists mainly of various gags and comic situations, most of them based on linguistic and cultural screw-ups.
In the picture’s most quoted scene, Sexton thinks that the couple he’s talking to is in tears because their daughter “CEGEP” has departed to the other side after getting hit by a bus, when in reality, she’s left home on a bus for a CEGEP, or Junior college. In another key moment, Hornstein, the New Yorker, reveals to Grandma Tremblay (Rita Lafontaine) that he’s a Jew, and she faints. Among various running gags, Pierre-Émile, le surveillant général (Yves Jacques), chastizes students who break the school’s speak in French only rule by handing them a yellow shaming card. With his professorial, moustache-less fringe beard and severe specs, Pierre-Émile is Tierney’s caricature of the unforgiving politicians, bureaucrats, and language inspectors who have haunted the Anglo-Quebec imagination since the Parti Québécois first came to power in 1976.
Some of the jokes work. Some misfire. By the end of this city-slicker-in-the-boondocks comedy, which recalls 1983’s Local hero and the 2003 Quebec hit La Grande Séduction, Tierney has stirred everything he and Lewis could think of into the pot, including a spoof of Bollywood musicals. Reviews of French Immersion have ranged from praise to pans, and in the first week of its release, it was, according to a Playback chart, the fourth highest grossing Canadian film.
God, Mon Amour
The child protagonist of director-writer-actress Micheline Lanctôt’s new film, Pour l’amour de Dieu (For the Love of God), loves the beauty she sees in nature and in art. But she has no friends, and her family is grotesquely crude and indifferent to her needs. Léonie (Ariane Legaul) finds sanctuary in the local church, comforted by its mise en scène, rituals, and Sister Cécile, the seductively attractive young nun (Marianne Péloquin) who tells her, “You choose your Saviour the way you choose your lover.” Speaking of saviours, not only does Jesus Christ (Rossif Racette Sutherland) appear to the pre-pubescent Léonie, as well as other characters in the film, he happens to be an attractively melancholic hunk, whose laid-back visitations are the most natural thing in the world.
The plot kicks in when both Léonie and Sister Cécile are smitten by a young, willowy, Puerto Rican priest (Victor André Trelles Turgeon). Father Malachy seems to have a narcissistic streak in the way he flourishes his robe, bringing Léonie to tears and stirring forbidden yearnings in Cécile. Naturally, the relationship between the nun and priest must sublimate desire, exemplified by a hyper-romantic scene in which they rock together on an old-fashioned porch swing, gazing into each other’s eyes.
Set in 1959, Pour l’amour de Dieu is all about the interplay between spiritual longing and erotic love. In one scene, Father Malachy delivers the sacrament in a way that borders on lovemaking. Pitched somewhere between Luis Buñuel's surreal irony and a romantic melodrama, Lanctôt’s movie turns into a dangerous triangle story about two females vying for the attention of a charmingly exotic man.
And when the picture jumps forward in time, guess who incarnates Léonie and Cécile as elderly women? For those familiar with Québec cinema and its icons, it’s a strangely powerful moment to watch Lanctôt herself and Geneviève Bujold play out the movie’s denouement.
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