Léa Pool’s La Dernière fugue, which premiered at this year’s Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois - the Quebec film world’s annual homage to itself - is another of her depictions of life within a damaged family. In Pool’s 2008 picture, Maman est chez le coiffeur (Mommy is at the Hairdresser's), a woman devastates her husband and children when she checks out of their lives, and the embittered parents of Emporte-moi (Set Me Free, 1999) emotionally suffocate their free-spirited teenage daughter.
In La Dernière fugue (The Last Escape), 75-year-old Anatole Lévesque (Jacques Godin) suffers the torments of an escalating Parkinson’s Disease that burdens his loving wife (Andrée Lachapelle), his children, and his grandchildren. During the Christmas dinner party that opens the film, the adult Lévesques question whether Anatole should remain at home, or even continue living in such a debilitated state. In fact, Anatole himself dreams of going out on a high cholesterol banquet, and grandson Sam (Aliocha Schneider) agrees that the family should offer the old man a beautiful death, the “Belle mort” that is the title of the novel Pool and its author, Gil Courtemanche, adapted for the screen.
Perhaps in Courtemanche’s book, the various Lévesques play vital roles throughout the story. But in La Dernière fugue, most of the family members come off as sketchy minor characters, virtually disappearing from the action after the opening sequence. Pool’s new movie is not really an ensemble piece like Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares. She narrows the focus onto Anatole’s relationships with his wife, who laments that she “has become my husband’s mother, nurse, and cook,” his eldest son André (Yves Jacques), and teenage Sam. In a climactic sequence, the latter almost gives his beloved grandpa a not-so-beautiful death involving a bag of potato chips.
André, who never entirely grew up, enjoys chilling with Sam as they smoke joints, make snide comments, and talk porn. Gradually, via old home movies playing on TV sets, and “real” flashbacks to André’s childhood, we discover that he was severely damaged by his father’s shockingly childish, reckless, sometimes violent behaviour. The edge on this movie is the fact that Anatole is no Disease of the Week poster boy. An ultra old school intellectual who hasn’t made the transition from vinyl to CDs, he has been an arrogant, controlling, manipulative, self-absorbed prick for most of his life. Anatole is the kind of guy, who in a fit of 3 a.m. anxiety, once rushed to his piano and pounded out Bach without a thought for the neighbours. He was also capable of slugging his wife, already in tears over his crazed behaviour.
Age and disease have not mellowed Anatole. At the Christmas dinner table, when he’s not choking on the food he loves to eat and drooling wine, he sputters out insults that drive his relatives to tears. Near the end of the film, Anatole confesses that he is a “mean, vicious man, who wants to die.”
With its stream of flashbacks, La Dernière fugue conflates images of past and present traumas with memories of youth and beauty. A film touching on volatile issues like assisted suicide, La Dernière fugue is also an elegy for young love, a love exemplified by a scene capturing the kind of sensual, lingering kiss Pool has a special empathy for. “Yes, we kissed with our tongues,” the mother tells someone who wants to know what it was like being with her husband during their most golden moments.
“The film is above all a love story,” Pool (pictured below) wrote recently, “love between a man and a woman, a son and his father, a grandchild and his grandfather.” And this love story with its hopeful conclusion was not easy to finance - despite Pool’s long career as an award-winning moviemaker. While Quebec funding agency SODEC bought into the screenplay she wrote with Courtemanche, Telefilm Canada passed on it twice. Pool once told me that she was baffled by the experience of walking out of SODEC with approval for the project and then across the street, Telefilm Canada asked for revisions that could break the SODEC deal.
In the end, producer Lyse Lafontaine saved the movie by setting up an official coproduction deal with Luxenbourg, the first ever for Canadians. Lafontaine was drawn to the wealthy Grand Duchy because, she explained to industry journalist Jean-Pierre Tadros, its “points system is less constraining” than the rules in countries like France. Lafontaine could work with plenty of Québécois talent although the show had to locate in Europe for 51% of production and postproduction. After all, Luxembourg’s Iris Productions kicked in 40% of the $5.4 million budget.
Winter Keeps Us Warm
I don’t remember the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois embracing winter the way it did in 2010 even though the Ice Locker is a mythic season in Quebec, epitomized by everything from the Montreal Canadiens to chansonnier Gilles Vigneault warbling “Mon pays c’est l’hiver.” Denys Arcand, who once told me that we Quebeckers are a “nordic people,” looked slightly aghast when I said that I’ll take swaying coconut palms over bristly pines any time.
The RVCQ teaser clip featured a guy snow blowing his way to a cinema hosting the 28th Rendez-Vous, which screened 300 Quebec-made films, while running 36 special events and workshops, not to mention cocktail schmoozes and a retrospective of work by French ultra-auteur, Bruno Dumont (L'humanité, Twentynine Palms), who offered a master class.
Beyond Snowblower Guy, the RVCQ’s homage to the season of sleet offered up what organizers called The First Winter Rendez-Vous. Urbane rue St-Denis morphed into a space for snowshoe races and other games near a reconstruction of the snow fort in La Guerre des tuques, the 1984 children’s film the RVCQ celebrated with an exhibit of production stills and free screenings of the beloved movie. The snowshoe race was a nostalgic tip of the tuque to Michel Brault et Gilles Groulx’s seminal Les raquetteurs (1958), an NFB-produced short about a similar contest.
More fun was had by all in the so-called Ciné-parc d’hiver, an outdoor screening venue where festivaliers sat on heated seats and viewed short films celebrating winter. For those who prefer warming their buns in the Great Indoors, the RVCQ’s second Sexxx & Cinema Cabaret was a wildly popular mash of erotic shenanigans involving lots of exposed flesh, latex fetish wear, come hither posing, traditional burlesque, local sex goddess Bianca Beauchamp, and appropriate film clips. (Have a peek at http://www.biancabeauchampallaccess.com/fetish-events/video-rendezvous-bianca/.)
Ironically, The First Winter Rendez-Vous debuted during one of the least wintry Februarys ever. Temperatures hovered around zero, or just above it; the streets were almost snow and ice-free. Some among us longed for the rattle and clank of monstrous snow-blowing machines grinding up the white stuff and pouring it into massive dump trucks. It’s a ritual, often conducted past midnight, that makes people feel warm, safe and cozy.
Between the opening night’s screening of La Dernière fugue and the closing picture, Robert Morin’s Africa-set Le journal d’un coopérant, most of the year’s fiction features played the Rendez-Vous along with a wide selection of documentaries and shorts. By the end of the festival, the only high-profile 2009 movie to pick up an award was Bernard Émond’s La Donation, which won the Prix AQCC (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma). The film critics’ group, of which I am a member, favoured La Donation (see December’s Inside Quebec) over Denis Côté’s Carcasses, Xavier Dolan’s J’ai tué ma mère, André Forcier’s Je me souviens, and Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique.
The RVCQ’s new Prix Gilles-Carle for best first or second feature (complete with $5000 in cash presented by production/distribution company Remstar) went to Robin Aubert’s À quelle heure le train pour nulle part (Train to Nowhere), a movie about a man travelling through India to find his lost twin. Meanwhile, back in Canada, Takako Miyahira’s Looking for Anne was another unusual selection. Produced by Samuel Gagnon and Yuri Yoshimura-Gagnon, the film follows a young Japanese girl travelling through Prince Edward Island to discover more about the Canadian soldier who might have been her grandmother’s lover when he gave her a copy of Anne of Green Gables.
Naturally, the entire Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois for 2010 was dedicated to the late and deeply lamented Gilles Carle.
At the press conference announcing the line-up of the 2010 Festival International du Film sur l’Art, musician and broadcaster Catherine Perrin dismissed perceptions that the event is elitist. Now in its 28th year, FIFA screens mainly docs about creative endeavour, films that often focus on the lives, intriguing work methods, and innovations of artists who have succeeded in communicating with people around the world. For Perrin, a festival that creates an opportunity to explore a universal like human creativity is far from elitist. Clearly on a mission to broaden its enthusiastic fan base, FIFA has another spokesperson: English-speaking broadcaster Nancy Wood, currently basking in the support of radio listeners protesting her looming removal from the host’s chair on the network’s local morning show.
Founded and still directed by René Rozon, this year’s edition of FIFA programmed 230 films from 23 countries, 43 of them, including Canadian and Québécois work, in competition. At showcasings of its wares, FIFA always climaxes the occasion with a montage of tasty and varied clips that display the festival’s range.
As FIFA’s teaser images rolled by, certain titles were particularly enticing. David Hockney: A Bigger Picture tracks the legendary painter’s departure from L.A. and relocation in Yorkshire, where for the first time in his career, he is creating landscape work in the unpredictable outdoors, creating landscapes. Offre-moi ton corps looks like an intriguing study of how artists are depicting the human body while Harlem in Montmartrte evokes the world of Black American jazz musicians thriving in Paris between the first and second world wars. In the realm of literature, King of Spies depicts the inscrutable espionage writer John le Carré, and among its numerous movies about movies, FIFA is honouring the multi-talented André S. Labarthe with screenings of his film portraits, the subjects of which include Samuel Fuller, Arthur Penn, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, John Cassavetes, and Martin Scorsese.
This year’s Prix Jutra nominations might have been the most eagerly anticipated in the movie award’s 12-year history. For one thing, a new special jury split into two groups picked the nominees for prizes to be announced during a March 28 gala. (Last year, many independently minded filmmakers grumbled about the choices made by members of professional associations.) Moreover, it’s been a hot year for Quebec film with audiences flocking to both mainstream and more personal productions. Recent numbers show a box-office surge to a 52% increase over 2008.
I wasn’t surprised that Jean-Philippe Duval’s rocking biopic Dédé, à travers les brumes picked up the most nominations (ten) despite all the buzz around Xavier Dolan’s J’ai tué ma mère, which earned five nods, four of them going straight to its youthful creator: best director, actor, screenplay, and producer. As for Dédé, I’ve ranted about the movie in this column. It’s one of the most audacious, crowd-pleasing, and musical films about musicians since Almost Famous and The Commitments. Incredibly, the movie did not get a single Genie nomination.
The big surprise, one that parallels the 2010 Genies, was the best picture and director nominations for Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu’s Le jour avant le lendemain (Before Tomorrow). Visually crystalline, dreamy and hyper-real at the same time, Before Tomorrow resembles movies made by its executive producers, Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn. Depicting 19th century Inuit life from a female perspective, filmed by Cohn, the movie has the trance-like seductive power of Atanajurat: the Fast Runner and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. The Prix Jutra’s jury selection process might explain why the picture is up for top awards.