Winner Takes All
A CBC reporter covering the 14th Soirée des Jutra, Quebec’s annual film awards gala, wondered if there was going to be a competition. Translation: would the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar sweep the awards, as it did the Genies a few days earlier? Or did other highly regarded 2011 releases have a shot at major prizes?
The answer started to come when Émilien Néron won the Best Supporting Actor Jutra. The crowd in the Théâtre St. Denis, a mix of industry players and fans offered access to the event for the first time, cheered Néron, who plays one of the traumatized children in Philippe Falardeau’s hugely popular film. Down in the press area, the kid handled scrums like a seasoned pro, and later on, Sophie Nélisse, named Best Supporting actress for her role in Monsieur Lazhar, charmed the journalists grinding out their coverage.
When Falardeau took best-adapted screenplay, everyone knew it was all over. By the time the evening ended, Monsieur Lazhar had picked up seven Jutras (compared to six Genies), including best director and best picture.
In the days following the gala, some industry and media typea grumbled that whatever the excellence of Monsieur Lazhar, some really tasty movies picked up few or no awards. For instance, Sebastien Pilote’s Le Vendeur, which producer and film critic Greg Klymkiw praised as “one jaw-droppingly poetic shot after another … the frame rife with the reality of both beauty and despair,” took only a single Jutra, Best Actor for Gilbert Sicotte’s transcendent performance as the eponymous salesman. Accepting his Jutra, the gracious Sicotte talked about his love for acting and how the protagonist of Pilote’s film troubled and fascinated him.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s ambitious Café de Flore took three prizes, most notably Vanessa Paradis’ Best Actress Jutra, dittoing her Genie win. As for Guy Édoin's feverishly beautiful Marécages, Stéphane Lafleur’s absurdist comedy, En terrains connus, and André Forcier's delectable Coteau Rouge, the three pictures picked up zilch. A guy with a mischievously playful sense of humour, Falardeau parodied his over-the-top winning streak by swinging his Jutras like muscle builders as photographers snapped pix. He joked that the Genies were so heavy, they gave him back problems. Good thing he didn’t win a gold-plated Oscar.
Most media observers thought that Émilien Néron’s victory speech was one of the event’s highlights, and they praised the TV broadcast’s hosts: actress Sylvie Moreau and actor-comedian-director, Yves Pelletier. Average viewership over the three hour show was 570,000, down from 2010’s 855,000 because of stiff competition from a climactic episode of the talent show, Star Académie.
For me, a Jutra 2012 highlight came when actress-director Paule Baillargeon (pictured at ledt) received her special award for many years of inspiring work. Baillargeon played in five Denys Arcand films, including his wittiest and most emotionally wrenching, Jésus de Montréal, and she was the sophisticated lady Sheila McCarthy obsessed over in Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing. During the presentation of the Prix Jutra-Hommage, she was described as a model for her generation and generations that followed: a fearless mix of “sweetness and violence.”
For Baillargeon, being honoured with a prize named after her friend, the late, legendary director Claude Jutra on his birthday (March 11) was deeply personal. Her deeply felt homage to Jutra, the 2002 doc, An Unfinished Story, tracks him from his childhood to the moment he leapt off Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge after struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps thinking of Claude, one of the great innovators of Canadian cinema, Baillargeon told the crowd of 1860 spectators that she will never stop making films in her way. Then she quoted another of her heroes, the late, legendary actor and moviemaker, John Cassavetes, who once asked, “Is it better to fight and lose, or suffer in a corner in silence?”)
La Grande nuit du cinéma, the group that organizes the Jutra Awards, recently hooked up with Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois, the annual retrospective of the year’s movies, the union yielding the Fondation Québec Cinéma, to better promote Quebec movies and their creators.
The mood at the 30th edition of the RVCQ was more upbeat than usual. 2011 yielded a bumper crop of first-rate films, including works by newly emerging moviemakers like Sébastien Pilote (Le Vendeur, which the Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma honoured with its Luc-Perreault/La Presse prize for best picture of the year), Anne Émond (the hypersexual talkathon Nuit#1), and Guy Édoin (the equally hypersexual, visually seductive Marécages). Meanwhile, more seasoned directors with new releases included Stéphane Lafleur (the genuinely strange, fitfully funny En terrains connus), Jean-Marc Vallée (the romantic mash up Café de Flore), and of course, Philippe Falardeau, whose Monsieur Lazhar picked up an Oscar nomination, ransacked the Genies, and won most of the above-the-line Jutras. At the time of writing, the movie has earned $3,364,812 at the Canadian box-office.
Speaking of the Genies, some of the year’s most engaging movies didn’t receive a single nomination. Not due to any weaknesses in the films themselves, but because the producers of Le Vendeur, En terrains connus, André Forcier's memorable Coteau rouge, and Alain Desrocher's rock star bio Gerry, balked at shelling out the entrance fees the Academy of Canadian Film and Television demands. Naturally, the talent behind these titles were openly pissed-off. Why not benefit from whatever media, industry, and audience attention nominations would generate outside Quebec.
Before wrapping at the end of February, the RVCQ screened 309 films, a lineup that broke down to 36 features, 106 shorts, 25 full length documentaries, 34 short docs, 37 experimentals, 25 animated films, 35 student works, and 5 movies from abroad. If nothing else, the RVCQ demonstrates that Quebeckers are prolific moviemakers.
Highlights among the 86 premieres included Jean-Claude Coulbois’ Mort subite d’un homme-théâtre, a doc about the brilliant late actor, Robert Gravel, and Quebec movie pioneer Fernand Dansereau’s film about keeping your sense of humour as you age, Le vieil âge et le rire. To underline its anniversary, the Rendez-vous played maverick Jean Pierre Lefebvre’s Les fleurs sauvages, which launched the first Rendez-Vous thirty years ago.
Apart from the busy screening schedule, the RVCQ organized well-attended events like a “cinema lesson” offered by French writer-director Claire Denis, who in films like Chocolate, Beau Travail, and White Material has unsettled viewers with provocative content and off-kilter moviemaking strategies since the 1980’s. Cinematographer Agnès Godard, who shot Beau Travil and other Claire Denis projects, also showed up at the Rendez-Vous to talk about her métier.
The Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois launched with Denis Côté’s Bestiaire, a film that he made after getting nervous about his previous movie Curling being taken as a sign of mellowing and becoming more accessible. (Curling is more story-driven than earlier Côté films, but the idea of it being conventionally accessible is ridiculous.)
Almost wordless, Bestiaire consists largely of long take portraits of animals in Park Safari, a Quebec zoo where zebras, buffalo, and other creatures roam freely in the summertime and live imprisonment off-season.
Côté’s deadpan style induces us to project onto the faces that we see. As we watch, the animals look questioning, accusatory, depressed, human. Are any of these impressions accurate? Côté doesn’t care. He wants Bestiaire to be open and ambiguous, a Rorschach test for the viewer, definitely not an animal rights polemic.
On the other hand, when you observe the animals’ mottled fur, bits of straw clinging to it, they don’t exactly seem like free creatures, bounding their way through nature. Of course, life in the wild is also not always a beautiful sight to behold.
As in his other films, Côté, who like Woody Allen churns out one film after another and has impassioned fans all over the world, takes a situation and gives it a sense of mystery, of the inexplicable, of the world he’s showing you being otherworldly.
The Rendez-Vous closed with another one-of-a-kind doc, Brigitte Poupart’s Over My Dead Body. Like Bestiaire In the film, choreographer Dave St-Pierre, known for his unleashed dance performances will die unless he benefits from a lung transplant. St-Pierre has cystic fibrosis, which leads to severe lung damage.
Over My Dead Body explores the interface between disease and art. We see choreographies like St-Pierre’s Pornography of the Soul, an unabashedly, unapologetically naked work, and we track St-Pierre through numerous hospital visits. This is an arts documentary, a portrait of an artist, which is also about the medical treatment of a dire condition, and the precariousness of dealing with a last chance situation.
Into the Woods
One of the English-language films at the RVCQ was veteran theatre director and actor Guy Sprung’s debut fiction feature, The Hat Goes Wild. Sprung (pictured at right), who has directed William Hurt and RH Thompson, plays with genre in The Hat Goes Wild, as he follows a group of students on an excursion into remote Quebec. Like The Blair Witch Project, the entire movie is shot from the pov of a student who keeps her camera running no matter what disasters befall her pals.
The scattershot camera, video break-ups and speedups, unstable angles and jump cuts evoke the jittery energy of the characters. You get a topsy-turvy world spinning toward destruction.
Also debuting at the RVCQ and produced by Montreal’s EyesteelFilm, which for some reason I think of as the Warner Brothers of Canadian doc operations, Tony Asimakopoulos’ Fortunate Son is an imaginatively conceived, sometimes dazzlingly impressionistic autobiographical movie about the director’s turbulent relationship with his Greek immigrant parents.
Constructed like a dramatic film with a twisting story arc, loaded with flashbacks in the form of scenes from autobiographical student films, Favourite Son never balks at painful truths, including Asimakopoulos’ youthful heroin addiction, not to mention the vitriol between his parents. The movie is a much darker equivalent of Recalls Scorsese’s portrait of his parents, Italianamerican (1974).
A sun-dappled interlude in the Gulf of Corinth seduces Asimakopoulos’ fiancée, Nathalie, who is overjoyed by the expansive land and seascapes, the soft luminosity, and Mom’s loving attention. You can practically smell the honeysuckle and bougainvillea. But paradise is poisoned by the animosity between Asimakopoulos’ parents, a mystery that mom believes must be the result of a curse.
One of the recent major commercial releases, La peur de l’eau is a plodding murder mystery set on the Magdalen Islands. We get a lot of drugs, boats, picturesque vistas, and endless exposition regarding the crime and the prime suspects. The writer missed the part of Robert McKee’s story seminar where he emphasizes that exposition must be ammunition. Recently, the picture snapped up numerous Aurore nominations for bad filmmaking. For instance, Brigitte Pogonat got the nod for the female Liquid Paper Aurore for a role that must be erased from her c.v.
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