When the mean, old, ugly dark winter seems like nothing more than a bad dream, Quebec’s film industry goes lite, serving up crowd-pleasers like Émile Gaudreault’s De père en flic (Father and Guns). This action-comedy is Gaudreault’s third collaboration with Quebec producers Denise Robert and Daniel Louis, but this time he co-authored the screenplay (with Ian Lauzon) then took on the mission of delivering a picture that meets widespread expectations of a major summer hit.
Robert and Louis’ company, Cinémaginaire, turns out winners like the ethnic family comedy Mambo Italiano, and in a more serious vein, Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares (both from 2003). More recently, the company endured a couple of disappointments. Its last Gaudreault-directed project, 2007’s Surviving My Mother was a respectable follow-up to Mambo, and it played reasonably well at the box-office, but it wasn’t in the same league. And in the aftermath of the Oscar-winning Invasions Barbares, Robert’s production of Arcand’s ambitious satire, Days of Darkness, misfired badly.
While Mambo and Surviving My Mother were character-driven, comic depictions of troubled family relations, the $6.7 million De père en flic tacks cops and robbers frenzy, slapstick, and gross-out gags onto a relationship story that drops gays and women in favour of men with attitude. At the same time, the film’s social parody has a relatively more sophisticated appeal.
Following sixties-style animated credits promising a good time for all, the action movie component kicks in. Two cops, a father and a son, are on a rooftop directing a stakeout that goes awry when one of their colleagues is kidnapped by a vicious motorcycle gang. The sequence establishes the film’s main shtick: Dad Jacques (Michel Côté) and son Marc (motor-mouthed stand-up comic and TV host Louis-José Houde) hate each other’s guts and constantly bust their lungs in shouting matches. At the root of the problem is ultra-macho Jacques’ disdain for his son’s lack of beef and balls, especially when it comes to firing a high-powered rifle at the bad guys. Yes, this is an action-comedy flirts with Freudian symbolism.
The plot shifts when Jacques and Marc sign up for father-son group therapy in a remote Quebec forest. Ostensibly, the cops join the group to track a lawyer (ubiquitous Rémy Girard) with links to the villainous bikers, and pissed off about the miserable relationship he has with his son (Patrick Drolet). Naturally, Jacques and Tim get sucked into the woodland therapy sessions, which spoof both Survivor and psychic healing programs, especially male-oriented ones like Robert Bly’s drum beating, primal screaming, get-in-touch with your manhood routine.
The camp’s methods caricature cult-like group therapies. In one sequence, sons and fathers present each other with surrogate objects like a Taliban doll (Marc’s idea of Jacques), a Barbie (vice-versa), and in the case of another duo, a piece of shit. “It could be a dog, it could be human,” says the son. “It doesn’t matter. It’s a piece of shit.” Other techniques include the sons ludicrously regressing to babies in their daddy’s arms (one of them sucking on pop’s nipple) and returning to adolescence as they wrestle with dad in a mud pit. Throughout all this intermittently funny action, Gaudreault occasionally cuts away from the camp to remind us of the cops, the motorcycle gang, and the kidnap victim, who see in diluted torture porn images.
At heart a typically Cinémaginaire family story, De père en flic’s first act is set-up for the picture’s extended mid-section in the forest, located in Quebec’s beautiful Charlevoix region. Interestingly, the picture toys with the deadly serious father-son traumas running rampant in Québécois culture, a theme taken to its limit in Jean-Claude Lauzon’s 1988 provocation, Un Zoo la nuit.
The film’s distributor, Alliance-Vivafilm, has been hard-selling De père en flic. The operation has come up with promotional twists like an “advance premiere” in Montreal’s Place des Arts, complete with a Father’s Day BBQ on the PdA’s open plaza. The campaign seemed to be paying off when the film, released on 120 Quebec screens, took in $570,770 (9.4% of the market) during its opening two days.
Yes, it’s summertime, and the viewing is easy. Winner of the summer’s Least Demanding Film Experience Award has got to be À vos marques Party! 2, the eagerly anticipated sequel to 2007’s À vos marques Party! (On Your Marks Party!). AVMP 2, continuing the first film’s experiment with teen comedy, a rare genre in Quebec, got severely chastised by critics. They didn’t expect wit and wisdom, but they thought, hey - in an era of Judd Apatow comedies, they might enjoy a few yuks. Most were denied the pleasure.
À vos marques Party! 2 zooms in on Gaby (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Frédérik (Jason Roy-Léveillée), the teen couple of AVMP 1. Apart from dealing with their relationship issues, the two are busy vying for prizes at an international swim competition in Quebec City. Unsurprisingly, Gaby gets interested in another guy (David Laurin). At one point, an American competitor at the swim meet says to Fréderik, “Je te watch, beaver boy,” for some commentators, the picture’s only funny line.
Despite the harsh press AVMP 2 received, its distributor has so much faith in the movie’s appeal to a presumably unsophisticated teenage demographic, it released the film on 100 screens. Ironically, one of the year’s most worldly Quebec films, Xavier Dolan’s J'ai tué ma mère(see May and June Inside Quebec links below) was written, produced, and directed by a teenager. Screening in a fraction of the theatres allotted to À vos marques Party! 2, Dolan’s picture has been sustaining strong per-screen averages since its June release. As for the teen comedy, it earned $1,136,076 during its first three weeks on screen. Incidentally, Dolan was one of many Quebec film people who praised former SODEC chief Jean-Guy Chaput in the aftermath of the latter’s recent dismissal from the funding agency (see June’s Inside Quebec). L’Affaire Chaput ended when the beleaguered executive, accused of spending excesses by Quebec’s Auditor-General, was told the government would respect the terms of his contract by retaining him in the Ministry of Culture until October.
Another summer release with a lot of high hopes attached to it, Ken Scott’s Les Doigts croches (Sticky Fingers) dials back to 1960’s Montreal as a gang of third-rate crooks attempts a record-shattering theft. After their plan gets flushed down the toilet, they somehow end up compelled to trudge the 839 kilometres of a legendary pilgrimage route. Someone who’s got the proceeds of their crime won’t give it to them unless they can demonstrate that their pilgrimage has made them into better men.
Featuring vedettes Roy Dupuis, Patrice Robitaille, and Claude Legault, Les Doigts croches marks the directorial debut of Ken Scott, the A-list screenwriter of 2003’s La Grande Séduction (Seducing Dr. Lewis) and Maurice Richard (2005), which was produced by the aforementioned Cinemaginaire. In an unusual promotional move, distributor Alliance-Vivafilm ran a contest granting the winner the right to choose the venue of the picture’s Quebec premiere. Les Doigts croches was also selected to close Comedia, the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival’s film event.
FanTasia the 13th
Montreal’s FanTasia Film Festival, the annual summertime blast of genre films, coincides with a moment when both mainstream and arthouse cinema increasingly show the influence of genre pictures. Despite this fact, FanTasia continues to be perceived as not quite culturally correct by government agencies which hold back serious funding, even though its programming attracts huge audiences and highlights provocative and challenging work. The fest does have private sponsors like game developer Ubisoft Canada, and modest support from various government agencies like Quebec ’s SODEC and Telefilm Canada, which recently contributed $35,000 to the event.
At the press conference announcing the 13th edition’s
line-up, festival co-founder Pierre Corbeil pointed out that while many see FanTasia as a horror picture show, only 20% of the films can be slotted into that category. Corbeil, President of the postproduction house Vision Globale, emphasized FanTasia’s diverse range. This year the 3-week event plays 115 features and numerous shorts, including comedy, visionary movies the festival is billing as “Cerebral Science Fiction Cinema,” and documentary.
Among FanTasia 2009’s hommages and sidebars, the fest is paying tribute to Hong Kong Cinema in its 100th year; screening a series of “anti-romantic comedies”; and presenting Empire of Desire, a selection of Japanese softcore erotic films. In tandem with these eye-popping “pink films,” a collaboration between FanTasia and the Cinémathèque Québécoise, the CQ is exhibiting 47 charmingly naughty movie posters advertising “pinku eiga” and “Roman Porno” films.
Of FanTasia’s usual array of Asian films, Takashi Miike’s Yatterman, this year’s opener, fires up the screen with the Japanese director’s adaptation of a 1970’s manga. Back in 1997, FanTasia was the first North American festival to play Miike’s feverish work, and then eventually helped to spread the word about another specialist in full-frontal surrealism, South Korean moviemaker Park Chan-wook, whose Old Boy won Cannes 2003’s Palme d’Or. In May, Park Chan-wook took a Cannes jury prize for Thirst, his new movie about a priest twisted into a vampire by a medical experiment, and naturally, the Korean-American co-production is a FanTasia highlight.
Other breathlessly anticipated titles include the brilliant South Kim Ki-duk’s Dream and the wildly taboo-breaking Japanese moviemaker Sion Sono’s Love Exposure, a 4-hour extravaganza of “perversion and poetry,” according to FanTasia’s irrepressible co-director of International Programming, Mitch Davis.
Also playing the fest, Anthony DiBlasi’s Dread and John Harrison’s Book of Blood are British adaptations of stories by the reliably disturbing horror writer, Clive Barker. From Brazil, Embodiment of Evil is the creation of José Mojica Marins, who for over 50 years mesmerized and appalled viewers with his aggressively nightmarish and hilariously demonic “Coffin Joe” pictures. Now in his eighties, Marins’ Embodiment of Evil marks his comeback to the screen after a long silence. FanTasia invited J.M.M. to Montreal so that it could honour him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Another planned guest, the porn star Sasha Grey (star of Steven Soderbergh’s new picture, The Girlfriend Experience) appears in the FanTasia entry, Canadian Lee Demarbre’s Smash Cut, an hommage to 1960’s schlockmeister, Herschell Gordon Lewis. And German director Andreas Schaap’s Must Love Death is, in Mitch Davis’ typically hyper-kinetic description, “an astounding freak fusion of romantic comedy and extreme horror that plays as if the Coen Brothers collaborated with Takashi Miike and Manhattan-era Woody Allen to make something in the median between Flirting with Disaster and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Maurie Alioff is a film journalist, critic, screenwriter and media columnist. He has written for radio and television and teaches screenwriting at Montreal’s Vanier College. A former editor for Cinema Canada and Take One, as well as other magazines, his articles have appeared in various publications including The Montreal Mirror and The New York Times.