As soon as the opening images hit the screen at the first media screening of Jean-Philippe Duval’s Dédé à travers les brumes (Dédé through the Fog), everyone in the room knew that Dédé would be the picture of the year. It’s hard to imagine another Quebec film that will match its speed, vibrancy and heartfelt funkiness.
At a press conference following the screening, Duval said that the story of the legendary André (Dédé) Fortin could have been a documentary, but fictionalizing allowed for a “wider scope.” The writer-director also told the assembled that his film was made in the spirit of Fortin’s “image, style, and grandeur.” It’s a work of “light and shadow, rhythms and silences, frenzies and suspensions.”
In 1990, multi-talented Dédé Fortin assembled a band that for the next decade took its youthful fans on a vertiginous high. Far removed from Céline Dion’s warbling pop, Les Colocs (The Roommates) churned out a fusion of rockabilly, reggae, rap, blues and world beat that crackled with sharp hooks, accelerator to the floor. The music assaulted fans with everything from guitars, harmonica, and brass horns to Dédé’s Québécois scat singing and bursts of tap dancing. In some numbers, a wailing clarinet introduced what sounded like klezmer. The mood of a typical Dédé show was feverish party-time, even though Fortin’s lyrics, full of hardcore Quebec slang, could be pensive and melancholic. The band’s last album, released in 1998, is called Dehors Novembre (Outside November).
Dédé à travers les brumes opens on bold animation of Fortin’s song/poem Belzébuth, in which he adopts the persona of a hungry cat prowling for a kill. The cat, as restless as Dédé himself, segués to a long shot of our hero, alone on a frozen lake, skating slowly toward an empty hockey net and slap shooting a puck into it.
Dédé is taking a break from struggling to work out Dehors Novembre in a remote country house with bandmates Mike Sawatzky (Joseph Mesiano) and André Vanderbiest (David Quertigniez). The movie’s structure pivots around this nervous, argumentative brainstorming, flashing back to Dédé’s early days as a film student and burgeoning musical genius, then eventually moving toward his suicide on May 10, 2000 in his Plateau Mont-Royal apartment. Dédé, who loved Japanese cinema, particularly the 1962 film, Hara-kiri, killed himself by slicing into his own chest. Somehow, this downer of an ending does not lessen the film’s joyful charge.
Duval’s movie clicks on many levels, not the least of which is Sébastien Ricard’s uncanny channelling of Dédé. Surprisingly indifferent to Les Colocs when producers Roger Frappier and Luc Vandal asked him to play their lead, Ricard worked his way deeply into the private and public Fortin, singing all the songs, and re-creating the wired moves. A respected actor, Ricard also happens to be a founder/member of the popular rap group Loco Locass, which embraces Quebec independence - as did André Fortin, who campaigned for sovereignty in the 1995 referendum.
Dédé à travers les brumes links the indépendantiste cause to youthful defiance and longing for a better world, not the platitudes of a Jacques Parizeau. Moreover, while the movie renders the cause seductive, just as it attracts viewers to the brightly coloured world of the Plateau Mont-Royal, it’s far from being a propaganda piece.
The kind of indépendantiste who opened himself to the world, Dédé’s musical collaborators were a diverse bunch from all over the world, including Africa. In a key scene, he rants about his separatism to Colocs guitarist Mike, an English speaking Cree from Saskatchewan, and Mike snaps, “We had independence and lost it.” At another moment, Dédé, who loved Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, says that he’s all in favour of including “the other loneliness,” which even if it’s defective vocabulary, sums up Canada with more sad poetry than Hugh MacLennan’s expression.
Throughout the movie, Dédé falls under the spell of talent and beauty. Raunchy blues rocker Cha Cha (Claudia Ferri, on the right in the picture below) and harmonica virtuoso Patrick Esposito de Napoli (Dimitri Storoge) whirl him in new directions. He can’t get enough of gorgeous, individualistic women like Nicole (Bénédicte Décary) and Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin). Pat’s sad fate, depicted in a heartbreaking climactic sequence, brings the movie to its emotional apex.
As expected, Dédé à travers les brumes opened strong on 72 screens, topping Quebec’s box office and earning $1 million in two weeks. It could do even better if Duval cut into the film’s 2 hours and 20 minutes running time, but according to insiders, he won't, even though its biggest fans think the picture would benefit from some trimming. Many of them believe that Dédé has a shot at making it to Cannes 2009, which would have pleased Fortin, who as a young filmmaker dreamt about screening at the festival.
Will Dédé à travers les brumes play well in English Canada and foreign markets? It’s got so much going for it: the dynamic cinematography and art direction, the animation sequences that producer Luc Vandal told me approximate Dédé’s own style. Above all, the bopping music fuses seamlessly with the narrative and jumps out at you, loud and clear. The best Canadian rock ‘n’ roll movie since Bruce McDonald’s gnomish Hard Core Logo, Dédé will move and charm audiences willing to leap into Montreal’s music scene and enjoy its language, rather than see it as a barrier.
The 11th Time Around
At a crammed reception preceding the Soirée des Jutra, Quebec’s annual film awards gala, nominees, presenters, politicians and various other folk hugged, kissed, and drank the ever-flowing wine. As I wandered around, sucking tasty morsels off spoons while clutching a glass of nicely chilled white, I detected no signs of the irritation that followed the nomination announcements.
Why, some wanted to know, were C'est pas moi, je le jure! (It’s Not Me, I Swear!) and Maman est chez le coiffeur (Mummy’s at the Hairdresser’s), nominated for best picture and ignored in the best director category? And while Yves-Christian Fournier got the directorial nod for Tout est parfait, his highly regarded contemplation of teen suicide, the movie picked up only three other nominations, excluding film of the year. There was also bitching that Luc’s Picard’s elaborate fantasy Babine was up in nine categories, but not best film or director, and grumbling about Susan Sarandon’s best actress nomination for the Quebec-made Emotional Arithmetic.
Following the cocktail, attendees strolled into Radio-Canada’s Studio 42, where the gala was hosted by Karine Vanasse, ultra-hot in the aftermath of her acting and producing credits in Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique (see March 2009’s Inside Quebec). Vanasse talked up the glories of Quebec cinema and movies in general, quoting everyone from Jean-Luc Godard to George Cukor while complicated psychedelic effects played over her slim, tightly sheathed body. As the evening progressed, she changed outfits so many times, I lost count and asked a colleague for his tally. He had no idea.
With nine nominations, Babine was expected to pick up more Jutras than any other film, and it did, but in categories like music, makeup, and art direction. Lyne Charlebois, best director for her erotically-charged, tragically hip Borderline (See February 2008’s Inside Quebec), seemed genuinely floored by her win. Ignoring hurry-up music cues, she improvised a long, meandering acceptance speech, almost as long as the tearful thank you delivered by veteran Angèle Coutu, best supporting actress for the same excellent movie.
In the press room for a media scrum, Charlebois gazed at the huge HD monitor with a big smile as the star of her film, Isabelle Blais, took the best actress award. The brilliant, Rubenesque actress was so excited, she said she felt like her breasts were going to explode. At least, I think she said that.
Another cute moment occurred when Antoine L'Écuyer, the impish child star of Phillipe Falardeau’s C’est pas moi, je le jure! (See October 2008’s Inside Quebec) presented an award with top vedette Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge, whose breakthrough role was also as a defiant little boy in the 1985 film, Le Matou. L'Écuyer cracked, “Was it in black and white?,” and Lemay Thivierge pretended to be upset. As for Falardeau’s movie, it won a single Jutra for André Turpin’s crystalline cinematography.
The best picture of 2008, according to the Soirée des Jutra, is Benoit Pilon’s Ce qu’il faut pour vivre. The movie about an Inuit dislocated by his need for medical treatment in 1950’s Quebec also won best screenplay (Bernard Émond with Pilon’s participation) and actor - The Fast Runner’s Natar Ungalaaq, a model of gracious dignity in his dark suit. Clearly, the house favourite Ungalaaq accepted his Jutra in English.
Also displaying class, esteemed moviemaker Fernand Dansereau accepted this year’s Jutra-Hommage for his long contribution to Quebec cinema by telling the assembled that they are workers for conscience and culture.
And in an ironic twist, the same week that Robert Ménard’s Cruising Bar 2 was awarded the Billet d'Or Jutra as the year’s most profitable film, the third annual Prix Aurore named it 2009’s Best Worst Film.
FIFA and Shakespeare’s Face
For Montreal actor James Hyndman, spokesman for Montreal’s 27th Festival International du Film sur l’Art, the event is “an oasis for the mind and soul in a world where culture must be profitable.” FIFA’s admirers wholeheartedly agree with Hyndman’s description. At the 2009 edition, they were offered nearly 300 movies about art and artists, a selection that ranged from Mort à Venise: un voyage musical avec Louis Lortie, a Quebec pianist’s tour of Venice’s musical history to docs about Annie Lennox and Tim Burton.
A highlight of FIFA 2009, Anne Henderson’s Battle of Wills, guides viewers into one of the deepest mysteries of western culture: William Shakespeare’s identity. Henderson’s doc, slated to air on BRAVO, depicts a retired Bell engineer who claims that he owns a portrait Shakespeare posed for in 1603. In fact, Lloyd Sullivan of Ottawa believes that his treasured family heirloom is the only known rendition of the Bard created while he was alive.
The vibrant face in Sullivan’s portrait, known as the Sanders, emanates the kind of youthful energy actor Joseph Fiennes incarnated in Shakespeare in Love, and bears no resemblance to the sourpuss hanging in England’s National Portrait Gallery. Fiennes, who appears in Henderson’s doc, sees the writer he loves in the Sanders. Lloyd Sullivan is so committed to his belief that his picture captures the real Shakespeare at the peak of his gifts, he has thrown his life savings into proving his case.
Elegantly shot, fluidly edited, emanating an air of mystery, Battle of Wills tracks the scientific testing and genealogical investigations Sullivan initiated. The movie sees him as an obsessed, indefatigable, somewhat quixotic figure who is taking on England’s Shakespeare establishment, which has a lot invested in images like the NPG’s Chandos portrait. Just before Battle of Wills debuted at FIFA, Stanley Wells, the formidable Chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, unveiled yet another contender, the 300-year-old Cobbe portrait. The story made the front page of The New York Times and got played big in other media. “Shakespeare Found!” trumpeted the Trust’s publicity machine, promoting an exhibition that runs until September.
The gloves are off. Henderson and producer Nathalie Barton are responding to the sudden emergence of the Cobbe by trying to put Battle of Wills back into production. New material would continue to follow Sullivan’s efforts to validate his picture, while questioning the “claims of the new painting,” Henderson told me recently. “They’re really easy to pick apart.” While it’s unlikely that any image created hundreds of years ago could be authenticated beyond all doubt, “every step of the way, Lloyd Sullivan’s portrait has gained traction.”