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Inside Québec – May 2008

Inside Québec - May 2008, image,

Inside Québec – May 2008
by Maurie Alioff

Everyone Used to be Happy

Set in 1966, Léa Pool’s Maman est chez le coiffeur opens light and breezy as summer begins for teenage Élise (Marianne Fortier) and her kid brothers. The veteran auteur’s new picture darkens when their journalist mother (Céline Bonnier) announces that if she doesn’t check out of their idyllic country home and take a posting in London, she will die. The impact on the family is immediate. Brother Coco (Élie Dupuis) becomes even more obsessively focused on the go-kart he’s assembling in the garage. More disturbingly, Benoit (Hugo St-Onge-Paquin), who in an early scene shows mom his drawing of her as a powerful queen, smashes toys and tailspins into self-destructive withdrawal. French actor Laurent Lucas (With a Friend Like Harry) plays the father as a fussy medical professional, whose initial reaction to his wife’s abandonment is childish regression.

Maman est chez le coiffeur, movie, poster,Pool and screenwriter Isabelle Hébert work up real empathy, not just for the idiosyncratic central characters, but also for their friends and neighbours, most of whom suffer their own wounds. Other people’s gardens are not any greener, dad tells his kids. For Élise, at an age when she’s delighting in her first sexual rituals, the charmed fairy tale she once lived fractures into a world of troubled souls. One of them is M’sieu Mouche (Gabriel Arcand), a man-child who crafts beautiful fishing lures, and may be dangerous to children.The movie’s fairy-tale atmosphere, complete with its own comical Wicked Witch of the East, is heightened by exquisite visuals of Quebec’s Richelieu Valley. The film’s Switzerlandian look alludes to The Sound of Music, and one of Élise’s friends dresses like he’s in it.  With the exception of judiciously chosen American cars and a couple of pop songs – like Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill, Pool deploys “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” – the Swiss-born director’s world seems closer to the countryside near Berne than a North American locale.

Also opening in May, Charles Binamé’s Le piège américain is an ambitious picture about mythic gangster Lucien Rivard.  The criminal’s trajectory took him from pre-revolutionary Cuba, where he knew Jack Ruby, the murderer of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, to breaking out of prison in Montreal. In James Ellroy’s obsessively convoluted novel, American Tabloid, the French-Canadian character Pete Bondurant, a professional criminal involved in the Kennedy assassination, is based partly on Rivard. Released in April, Philippe Gagnon’s sci-fi spoof, Dans une galaxie près de chez nous 2, enjoyed an opening weekend that yielded better box office than North America’s top grosser, The Forbidden Kingdom. A week later, the sequel’s returns hit $1 million.

What the Hell is Going On?

As the most vicious winter in 30 years finally loosened its grip, three stormy dramas became the focus of media attention and industry chatter. A respected filmmaker engaged in an exhausting battle with a prominent producer; an indie distributor collided with exhibition giant Cineplex Entertainment; and the new owners of Télévision Quatre-Saisons pitted themselves against everyone from union members to politicians in all three major political parties. Prolific feature film and TV director Giles Walker first hooked up with producer Claudio Luca (The Boys of St. Vincent, The Last Chapter) to shoot Il Duce Canadese (2004), a mini-series about the internment of Italian-Canadians during World War II. The smooth collaboration prompted Luca to hire Walker for another show: an ambitious 12 hour look at one of Quebec’s most revered and complicated figures, René Lévesque.In an interview Walker told me he was first surprised, and then distressed that Luca “seemed to be increasingly unhappy” throughout the demanding, but gratifying shoot. “What the hell is going on here?” he asked staff producers. Eventually, the director submitted his cut, assuming that Luca would follow the showrunner’s routine of preserving what he liked and re-assembling what he didn’t. Walker also assumed that the remainder of his fees, about $126 000, would be paid, “according to my contract.” Instead, a letter from Ciné Télé Action 2, the company set up to produce the series, informed Walker that the agreement had been “nullified.”During arbitration, Luca argued that he had to save a substandard show in postproduction. Walker says that he assembled DVDs showing that “90% of the series was derived directly from the work that (editor) Jean Beaudoin and I had done.”  The arbitrator rejected Luca’s arguments, as well as a countersuit for $270 000 that would have devastated Walker financially if he had lost.At this point, there have been three judgments, including from Quebec’s Superior Court, against Luca. Walker says he’s proud of his work, and points out that unlike his well received take on the independentiste icon, which won lead actor Emmanuel Bilodeau a best performance Gémeaux, Luca’s recently aired follow-up got slammed by the French media and the legendary politician’s colleagues.“Now I see what it is that the producer wanted.” says Walker. “It’s a form of hyper-drama, which I wouldn’t do.” The quarrel cranked up into its own hyper-drama when Walker and Quebec District Council of the Directors Guild of Canada (QDC) had bailiffs seize the film negative, digital master and sound material of the first series. Intending a “judicial auction” of these materials, as well as the copyright, the QDC also formally complained about Luca to the Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec (APFTQ). At publication time, the producer has not backed off from his position that he incurred extra expenses to finish the series, and that Walker cost him a fortune in legal fees.

Popcorn, Nachos, and Cinema d’auteur

Up the Yangtze, movie, poster, In early April, Cineplex Entertainment aborted its planned May programming of a hit French comedy on screens in Montreal and Quebec City. In addition to yanking Un baiser s’il vous plaît, Cineplex also pulled the French version of the doc, Up the Yangtze, (which recently picked up a rave review in the NY Times) from a Montreal cinema.Cineplex was punishing Up the Yangtze’s producers and K-Films Amérique, Quebec distributor of Un baiser s’il vous plaît, because they had offered the films to a regional exhibition network called Réseau Plus. A non-profit, government-subsidized amalgamation of lo-fi screening venues, Réseau Plus plays mainly arthouse pictures in colleges and community centres located in various regions, some of them so remote, the last picture show palace faded out long ago. The operation commands a tiny share of the Quebec market. For Cineplex, and for Quebec’s Association des Propriétaires de Cinémas et Cinéparcs (APCCQ), commercial exhibitors have inalienable first run rights to the movies they screen. Rules are rules. What Cineplex failed to grasp is Quebec’s long history of not-for-profit Ciné-Clubs making film art available to people who would otherwise be deprived of it. Renowned moviemakers committed to their vocation after seeing work by Fellini, Godard, or Samuel Fuller in their local clubs.Reacting quickly, K-Films Amérique’s respected founder, Louis Dussault, lacerated Cineplex in the newspapers. Numerous industry players weighed in with their views, debating arcane fine points regarding commercial and non-commercial exhibition. In the normally acrimonious National Assembly, both the government and its opposition agreed that Réseau Plus is a jewel in Quebec’s cultural crown.The most passionate interventions came from eminent producer Rock Demers and longtime reparatory cinema operator, Roland Smith. Now running Montreal’s beloved Cinéma du Parc, Smith called theatre owners “nothing more than sellers of popcorn and nachos,” insisting that like all businessmen, they “have a social responsibility.”  For its part, APCCQ press releases insisted that the supposedly idealistic, government-subsidized Réseau Plus is nothing more than “unfair competition.”Eventually, Culture and Communications Minister Christine St-Pierre set up a group to forge agreements between Réseau Plus and the APCCQ. And probably getting jittery about the unrest in Quebec, Cineplex Entertainment met with Rock Demers and Louis Dussault. The exchange resulted in an agreement that the distributor could offer films to alternate venues if they were not programmed by commercial theatres within a “reasonable time.”

The Black Sheep Has Teeth

The first harbinger was the resignation of Télévision Quatre-Saisons president René Guimond soon after film production and distribution house Remstar put in a bid to buy the ailing TV network, nicknamed the “black sheep.” The moment had arrived, said Guimond, to hand over the reins to someone else.Soon after, Remstar execs Julien and Maxime Rémillard announced details of their re-structuring plan. While the Réseau Plus mêlée (see above) aggravated people, Remstar’s most dramatic announcement set off shock waves. Not only would the Remillards cut deeply into TQS personnel, they intended to eliminate news gathering and reporting operations by September. Before the Black Sheep could say Baa, the story was on front pages. TQS’ union protested to TV and Radio watchdog, the CRTC. Quebec premier Jean Charest, backed by all the parties in the National Assembly, called on the government regulator to insist that the network adhere to its current license requirements and broadcast news. Remstar claims that its competitors offer more than enough coverage. But everyone else seems to think that an information blackout would descend on regional viewers if TQS, which has been criticized for the inadequacy and superficiality of its reporting, shut down its newsrooms. The CRTC will mull over Remstar’s plans in early June.


As the Montreal Canadiens showed more hockey smarts than it has in years, Quebeckers attached Habs flags to their cars and tripped on visions of the Stanley Cup. One guy I crossed paths with pointed to the Canadiens’ logo shaved onto the back of his head. One can only speculate about where female fans prone to body embellishment expressed their hope that the team would rack up enough playoff wins to compete in the ultimate game. Cable sports channel RDS is a major beneficiary of the Habs’ success. Never before has a specialty outlet so dominated the Quebec market in time slots normally controlled by conventional broadcasters. For instance, an average of 2 million viewers watched RDS’ telecast of the 7th and final game between Montreal and Boston, the number rising to 3 million in the final moments. The 6th game topped the audience for the 1993 Stanley Cup, and some ratings were better than pan-Canadian numbers for CBC hockey broadcasts.

Northernstars logo imageMaurie 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. He is Northernstars.ca’s Québec Correspondent.

Inside Québec – May 2009

Inside Québec - May 2009, image,

Inside Québec – May 2009
by Maurie Alioff

She Drives by Night
Micheline Lanctôt, who wrote, directed, and plays the lead in the new film Suzie, has been a presence on the Québec scene since the 1970s. She first aroused interest with her compelling acting in two completely different films: Gilles Carle’s La vraie nature de Bernadette (1972) and Ted Kotcheff’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974). Like many natural talents, Micheline Lanctôt seemed to have always been around.When Carle first met the star of his best film, Lanctôt had never acted. A musician and artist, she worked at the NFB, where she cracked up fellow animators with her horse whinny imitations, and later drew for Montreal’s Potterton Productions. Several years ago, Carle told me that meeting Lanctôt, whose workplace was near his studio, had to be some kind of “miracle.” In a flash, he knew that she would perfectly embody the character he imagined: a mysteriously self-contained woman who decides to live in the country, endures disillusionment, gives an old man a hand job, and turns into a rifle-toting saint.  As I write this, it occurs to me that almost no-one on today’s film scene has that kind of imagination, and what production company would buy into such a wacky fable?In The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Lanctôt played opposite Richard Dreyfuss as Duddy’s French-Canadian girlfriend. One of the few indelible characters in Canadian film, Yvette’s sunny and loving disposition gets seriously challenged by Duddy’s manias and double-crosses.During the filming of the Oscar-nominated picture, Lanctôt hooked up with director Ted Kotcheff and eventually lived with him in L.A. Since returning to Montreal in 1980, she has been a prolific actress, playing on TV and in movies that include Denys Arcand’s Les invasions barbares (2003).Following her directorial debut with the animated NFB short, A Token Gesture (1976), Lanctôt made her first feature, L’Homme à tout faire (1980), which led to Sonatine (1984), the film that introduced Québec star Pascale Bussières. The movie, which took the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, recalls Antonioni-era approaches to cinema in its depiction of two confused teenage girls on the verge of suicide. The first picture the 61-year-old has directed since Le Piège d’Issoudun (2003), Suzie reunites Lanctôt with Bussières, this time taking on the role of a confused fortysomething. Early on, she abandons her autistic son (Gabriel Gaudreault) in the back of a cab driven by the film’s title character. Suzie (Lanctôt herself) is a 58-year-old who’s been in mourning since her husband skipped town with her daughter, and took her with him to Morocco. Like Martin Scorsese’s Travis Bickle, the only way Suzie can handle the pain of the night is by driving a cab through it. Like Taxi Driver, the movie is all about shots of a cab sleep-driving through city streets. Neon colours bleed into each other; sodium lamplight flares off the windshield.  Suzie emerges a little from her mute, quasi-catatonic state when she decides she has to do something about 10-year-old Charles, a strange, difficult 10-year-old, who according to his father (Normand Daneau), is an  “extra-terrestrial.”Lanctôt’s entire movie tracks one long, dark night of the soul. In fact, it happens to be Halloween night, and urban demons are everywhere, hounding Suzie and Charles. At one point, the woman and the boy descend into a purgatorial all night poker game presided over by a female dealer wearing a cowboy hat and big, bad dark glasses (inimitable rock ‘n’ roll singer Nanette Workman). In an offbeat and ambiguous moment of triumph, the kid plays and wins repeatedly, arousing suspicions that could turn nasty.In another key scene, Charles’ parents, Viviane and Pierre, engage in an interminable, over-acted shouting match, so long that when I returned to the theatre after an emergency trip to a distant men’s room, they were still at it. As the long night’s journey nears its end, cops intervene, and in the flat light of a police station, some kind of resolution occurs. But we have no idea whether the 10-year-old boy, or the 58-year-old woman, will ever escape their mute anguish. In Lanctôt’s comments about her movie, which even when it’s misfiring benefits from her image choices and tightly controlled performance, she quotes a line from Pink Floyd: “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl.”

Print the Legend
La vraie nature de Bernadette is one of the titles on a recently released box set called Hommage – Gilles Carle.  The other Carle pictures in the package are La vie heureuse de Léopold Z (1965), the moviemaker’s NFB-produced debut feature, La mort d’un bûcheron (1973), Les corps céleste (1973), and La Tête de Normande St-Onge (1975). Like Bernadette, the latter three movies were produced by Pierre Lamy, the first Québec independent to take a shot at full-length fiction. For every box set sold, $1.50 will go to the Fondation Maison Gilles Carle. The group will attempt to raise backing for the creation of a facility offering support to people living with Parkinson’s and related diseases.Carle, now in an advanced stage of PD, made it to the launch of the DVD set at the Montreal rep house, the Cinéma du Parc. As usual, his conjoint, singer Chloé Sainte-Marie, was by his side, and Micheline Lanctôt read a tribute that quoted a celebrated line from John Ford’s 1962 western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In Ford’s elegy for a dying era, a newspaper editor says to James Stewart, “This is the West, sir, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”Lanctôt linked her first director to Ford because there’s a wild western feel to Carle films like Red (1970). As for the editor’s dictum, “it could apply to you, dear Gilles,” Lanctôt read from her text. “In your life and every one of your films, who better than you has known how to transform the real into the magnificent crucible of your singular imagination – you the surrealist, the lover, the living.”Not only has Carle’s lively spirit challenged stuffy conventions, he was, as Lanctôt pointed out, “the first truly popular Quebec director, the first fiction director to compete in Cannes, the first and the only to create heroines larger than nature.” Carle was the first in everything, and that’s part of his legend. For Lanctôt, even though he is now silent, he remains an inspiration.

On the Beach
A year ago, Denis Villeneuve flew to the Côte d’Azur for a screening of his film, Next Floor, which picked up a Cannes 2008 best short prize and went on to win awards at numerous other events. This year the moviemaker’s Polytechnique, his first feature since Maelström (2000), is one of three Quebec pictures slotted into the festival’s Quinzaine des réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight) sidebar.The nod from Cannes tops the critical and box-office successes of a picture that many people objected to before its winter release. Some couldn’t understand why anyone would make a film about Marc Lépine’s shooting massacre of fourteen female engineering students in 1989 (see March Inside Quebec). But not only did Polytechnique play well for Quinzaine programmers, Telefilm Canada screened the film at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Bloc Québécois showed it to parliamentarians as a vivid demonstration of the need for gun control. As Polytechnique continues to make the rounds, Villeneuve is in Jordan, shooting Incendies, an adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s successful play about twins who travel to the Middle-East in search of their father, presumed dead for years, and a brother they never heard of.The other two Quebec-made movies in the Quinzaine are Denis Côté’s Carcasses and Xavier Dolan-Tadros’ J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother). Coté, an ex-film critic who wrote for the recently deceased weekly, Ici, has been earning acclaim on the film fest circuit with ultra low budget, serious- minded films like Elle veut le chaos (2008). Carcasses blends fiction and documentary to portray an old guy who continually takes apart and re-builds the old cars he stashes at the end of a country road.It’s a no-brainer to predict that Xavier Dolan’s J’ai tué ma mère will be a hot item in Cannes and sizzle for months to come – especially if it’s as bold as its title. Dolan, a onetime child actor who dubbed Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley for the French versions of the Harry Potter films, began writing I Killed My Mother when he was 17. At 19, failing to secure backing from Telefilm Canada and Quebec’s SODEC, he financed production with his own acting money. Once the film was almost complete, SODEC came on board, and recently a representative of the French sales agent operation, Rézo Film, flew to Montreal to grab world rights.In his debut as a writer-director, Dolan plays the lead, a young gay man who doesn’t get along very well with mom. Dolan, who cultivates massive wavy pompadours and a sulky expression, suggests a cross between Johnny Depp and 1950’s star, Sal Mineo. He freely admits that the relationship he depicts is based on his own problems with his actual mother and told entertainment journalist Brendan Kelly that things have improved, especially after he stopped living with her.

Spike and Yoko
The Montreal media got worked up over recent visitations from two iconic figures: Spike Lee and Yoko Ono. Lee appeared at the Cinémathèque québécoise to open a retrospective of his movies the CQ programmed with Vues d’Afrique’s 25th Pan-Africa International Film Festival.While in Montreal, Lee promised to return when a new version of the venerable arthouse, the Cinéma Parallèle, opens in a new culture venue slated to be constructed on a lot facing the St. Laurent Boulevard métro station. The Parallèle was originally housed in tiny storefront locations on The Main until it became integrated into the imposing mdeia art palace, Ex-Centris. The cinema is still there even though Ex-Centris founder Daniel Langlois shut off the projectors in two adjacent theatres, a blackout mourned by cinephiles who showed up on the last night for candle-lit funeral rites.The indie film scene fears that the Parallèle’s days are numbered, which is why Claude Chamberlan, who co-created it and the Festival du nouveau cinéma years ago, has been scrambling to find a stable location. Spike Lee would show up at a launch because he’s dealt with Chamberlan since the 1960’s when his buddy Claude was among the first to program his work.With typically ebullient whimsy, Chamberlan shot off a release headed FIRST SUBWAY STATION DEDICATED TO WORLD CINEMA, as if movie geeks would be catching Iranian animation and the latest Coen Brothers flick as trains roared by on the Green Line. “Paris has its Louvre metro station,” Chamberlan wrote, “Montreal now has the unique opportunity to have a metro station dedicated to cinema.” When Yoko Ono made her much-anticipated entrance at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts, the scene was right out of Fellini. Still cameras flashed and camcorder monitors multiplied her image as she sat down for a press conference backed by sky and clouds through the MMFA’s big windows. John Lennon’s widow wore a black suit and hat tilted at a rakish angle, her shades, as always, inexplicably perched on the tip of her nose.For a few minutes, Ono fielded questions about the exhibition, Imagine: The Peace Ballad of John & Yoko. Running until June 21 free of charge, it’s a multimedia show of film, video, photographs, drawings, and interactive pieces, some of it originals, and some copies. Haunted by the constantly repeating sound of John’s voice calling to his Yoko, the exhibition radiates out from the couple’s War Is Over bed-in, the 1969 happening in Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel. To promote world peace, John and Oko lolled around in their pyjamas, talking to an endless stream of reporters, supporters, and detractors. John composed “Give Peace a Chance” and recorded it with whoever happened to be in their suite.During the media preview that followed Ono’s press conference, I sat down on the replica of the big white bed. A photographer who was prowling around the exhibition aimed her camera at me. She wore her jet black hair in bangs and shades covered her eyes. I slipped on my shades and flashed the peace V. She smiled, clicked, and gave me a thumbs up. It was a shot she wanted.

Northernstars logo imageMaurie 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.

Inside Québec – June 2009

Inside Quebec - June 2009, image,

Inside Québec – June 2009
by Maurie Alioff

Xavier Takes Cannes
It’s not easy to grab the spotlight at the Cannes Film Festival. In its Official Competition and its sidebars, Cannes previews the latest from the international moviemaking elite, catapults new talent to the art film A-list, and inevitably sets off a frenzy of media attention with deliberately outrageous movies.Among the most widely covered pictures at this year’s event, venerated Austrian director Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon took the Official Competition’s Palme d’Or with its vision of a repressive German village on the cusp of Nazism. A contrastingly pop approach to the Third Reich, and the fest’s hottest ticket, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds benefited from a reportedly galvanizing performance by best actor recipient, Christoph Waltz. And perpetual bad boy Lars von Trier loomed largest with Antichrist, provoking fear and loathing with the film’s twisted, ultra-violent narrative about a grieving young mother who goes satanic, and then basking in the afterglow of a best actress award for Charlotte Gainsbourg.Enter a 20-year-old actor and filmmaker from Montreal, world premiering his directorial debut in the prestigious Quinzaine des réalisateurs. Without a track record like Tarantino’s, or a movie depicting genital mutilation like von Trier’s, Xavier Dolan managed to be stage centre at the world’s most renowned film festival. Dolan was buttressed by his implacable faith in the value of his work, the excitement the film generated back home, his movie star looks, and the most in-your-face title for a Canadian film since Young People Fucking.J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) is Dolan’s quasi-autobiographical comic portrait of a tumultuous love-hate relationship between a precocious, hyper-articulate teen (Dolan himself) and his petite-bourgeoisie mother (Anne Dorval). I killed My Mother cranked up so much expectation in Quebec before anyone saw it, its writer-director-producer seemed to be a shoe-in for the Camera d’or, the Cannes prize that honours first films.Mother didn’t win the Camera d’or, but it did pick up three other prizes, including the Art Cinema Award granted by an international jury of indie theatre programmers obviously convinced that audiences will go for the film. On top of that, interviewers pursued Dolan, publications from Variety to the Huffington Post bestowed favourable reviews on his work, and the French newspaper Le Figaro set up an unusual encounter between the young cineaste and one of the world’s most eminent filmmakers, Alain Resnais – recipient of Cannes 2009’s Lifetime Achievement award.In the aftermath of Dolan’s success, Quebeckers like producer Roger Frappier were comparing him to multi-talented Orson Welles, who created a masterpiece before he was 25. Dolan started writing Mother at age 17, then produced, directed, starred in, and even art-directed his picture while still in his teens. In fact, until Quebec funding agency SODEC helped out with postproduction, Dolan financed I killed My Mother with earnings from an acting career that began when he was a four-year-old shooting commercials for a chain of pharmacies.I killed My Mother is no seismic upheaval in moviemaking language like Citizen Kane. But it is an assured first film with a completely believable, dramatic tension at its core. Dolan’s movie opens with a montage of closeups depicting his character Hubert’s disgust for his mother, Chantale. He can’t bear her kitschy taste in home furnishings, her badly co-ordinated outfits, and the way she leaves specks of cheese on her chin when she eats a bagel. Later in the film, the fact that she never heard of Jackson Pollock really bugs him.Hubert rants and raves, cutting up his mother with his razor sharp verbal skills. Hubert is “special” as Chantale, a soft-spoken woman with a vague resemblance to 1960’s era Shirley Maclaine, told him when he was younger. But now she is wary of her brilliant brat and often intimidated by his tantrums, which can abruptly morph into inflamed professions of love. As the story develops, Chantale discovers what the audience already knows: her son is gay. The plot turn brings on a new level of estrangement between mother and son, complicating the oedipal undercurrents.I killed My Mother is a low budget film with minimalist but alluring production values. It swings between rapid-fire closeup montages, occasional dream sequences, and many two-shot duets – between Hubert and Chantale, Hubert and his lover Antonin Rimbaud (François Arnaud), Hubert and a teacher (Suzanne Clément), who appreciates his “fragile poetry from another era,” and empathizes with his troubles. Whatever the movie’s strengths and limitations, Xavier Dolan has pulled off something rare in Canadian filmmaking.  Much of the movie’s appeal derives from Dolan the actor’s glamorous, often shirtless physical presence. He looks like a hybrid of young Johnny Depp and doomed 1950’s teenstar, Sal Mineo.It’s no exaggeration to say that I killed My Mother wouldn’t be the same film without its star’s abundant black hair, often worn in a wavy tumble over his left eye. Looking at the topless, bushy-haired baby in the movie’s poster, a friend of mine observed that when Dolan was a child, his hair probably weighed more than he did.

Garden of Debris
Along with I Killed My Mother, two other Quebec films screened in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs: Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique, a restrained portrayal of the 1989 shooting massacre of female engineering students (see March Inside Quebec) and Denis Côté’s new film, Carcasses. A onetime movie critic, Côté shoots deadpan existential dramas that draw praise on the international film circuit.In Carcasses, Côté meticulously tracks the daily rituals of a real person in a somewhat fictionalized situation. Marginal to the max, Jean-Paul Colmor lives on a patch of rural Quebec crammed with every kind of rusting scrap imaginable. Even Colmor’s home is packed with junk. It’s stacked on shelves, cluttering the floor, spilling over onto his kitchen table as he consumes his meals. In a picture almost free of dialogue, Colmor says at one point, “I have 4000 old cars in my heart.”Throughout the movie, Colmor is Mr. Busy. He unpacks debris, piles it up, throws things into the back of crumbling hatchbacks, and transports them from one spot to another. He hammers, screws and clanks as birds sing, crickets chirp, and Mahler occasionally swells up on the soundtrack. For some reason, his idea of chilling out is trying to learn Spanish from an old vinyl record.At about the midpoint, a group of intellectually challenged kids mysteriously show up. They dig holes, play with a rifle, and make out with each other. When Jean-Paul approaches them with an ax, you get the impression they might be a threat. But in Carcasses, you’re never really sure what anybody is trying to accomplish.Jean-Paul’s world is sculptural, textural, a garden of debris tended by an obsessive. Is he a madman? An avant-garde artist who merges with his own creations? At one point, a photographer appears and takes shots of the photogenic clutter, reminding us that there’s a random aesthetic worth noting here. Following the movie’s Cannes press screening, Côté said, “It was a silent reception, maybe cold. I don’t know what went on in the viewers’ heads. I find that exciting.”

L’Afaire Chaput
Apart from the Quinzaine entries, Cannes screened Quebec productions A No-Hit, No-Run Summer (August 2008 Inside Quebec) and It’s Not Me, I Swear! (October 2008 Inside Quebec) in the festival’s Écran Juniors slate of movies about young people.While at the festival, Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre expressed her satisfaction with Quebec’s 2009 showing. On the road and at home, St-Pierre has been championing government support of culture, recommending that Stephen Harper’s government adapt the same attitude. To honour I Killed My Mother, she set up a screening of the film for Quebec’s National Assembly, which passed a motion praising Xavier Dolan and his crew. The Harper government would probably react to a movie entitled I Killed My Mother by cutting Telefilm Canada’s budget, even though Telefilm didn’t put a cent into the movie. Sadly, warm feelings cooled when Quebec’s auditor-general, Renaud Lachance, accused the man who runs the highly respected funding agency SODEC of enjoying an unnecessarily “sumptuous” lifestyle on the public dime. While Jean Guy Chaput was still on the Croisette, working the festival with his team, Lachance recited a litany of offences: Chaput’s $1300 a night Cannes suite, $80,000 in unreceipted expenses for last fall’s Cinéma du Québec event in Paris, the agency spending $22,750 between April 2006 and December 2008 for 181 meals, and so on.At a press conference, Chaput tried to erect a line of defense, insisting that Lachance’s complaints were unjustified. For instance, an agency chief needs a suite for business meetings, and the $80,000 paid for events on the ultra-expensive Champs-Elysées. Media reports claimed that in the past, Chaput clashed with certain individuals who were out to settle accounts with him. Some insiders argued that agency bigwigs often book the best, and in any case, there are no clear parameters set for them.However, for Christine St-Pierre, Chaput has “no more moral authority to run SODEC,” and apparently, Premier Jean Charest has been fuming over the embarrassing incident. At the end of May, the SODEC Board of Directors unanimously recommended that the beleaguered President vacate his SODEC offices before his current mandate ends in October.

Northernstars logo imageMaurie 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.

Inside Québec – December 2008

Inside Québec - December 2008, image,

Inside Québec – December 2008
by Maurie Alioff

Once upon a time, Winnipeg`s genius kitschmeister Guy Maddin offered the world Careful, his homage to operatic melodrama, early filmmaking technique, and the defunct German genre known as the Mountain Film. Careful`s 19th century characters dwell in a Swiss village so precariously positioned, it might at any moment tumble into the void below. The anxious villagers try to avoid an apocalyptic avalanche by surgically muting their animals and gagging “vociferous children.”Surprisingly, inexplicably, Quebec actor Luc Picard`s second outing as a director recalls the dreamy archaism and overheated melodrama of Maddin`s 1992 film, as well as Terry Gilliam movies, visions from former Yugoslavian Emir Kusturica, and tales like The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. As an actor, Picard usually works in a grim realist mode far removed from Babine’s source material: story-teller Fred Pellerin’s live one-man-show, Il faut prendre le taureau par les contes (You Have to Grab the Bull by the Stories).An ardent Quebec nationalist, Picard played an FLQ kidnapper in Pierre Falardeau`s Octobre (1994) and the martyred 19th century patriot hero François-Marie-Thomas de Lorimier in the same director’s 15 février 1839 (2001). He won a Genie for his scary incarnation of a murderous cult leader in Savage Messiah (2002) and was a terminal alcoholic in Bernard Émond’s 20h17 Rue Darling.  For L’audition, Picard’s writing and directorial debut, he cast himself as an unhappy thug who prefers acting to beating the crap out of losers who annoy his boss.On the other hand, Babine is all fairy-dust, fireflies, and flower petals as it recounts the events that transpire in Pellerin’s mythic St. Élie de Caxton, a village nestled in timeless mountains that suggest a toy world enclosed by a glass ball. Opening like many fairy tales on a magical birth, a woman the villagers think of as a witch (Isabel Richer) brings the film’s eponymous hero to life. La Sorcière`s Babine (Vincent-Guillaume Otis) grows up into a shuffling, harmonica-playing Fool, a must for every village, the voiceover narrator (Pellerin himself) tells us.The movie`s plot kicks in when Babine’s friend, a kindly old priest (Julien Poulin), dies in a fire, and the good burghers blame the Fool for the catastrophe, just as they believe he`s guilty of every other lousy thing that happens, including the appearance of a giant flying bull. When the new curé (Alexis Martin) arrives in the village, the vicious fanatic makes more than one attempt to hang the melancholy, haplessly romantic Babine. Another eccentric, Toussaint Brodeur (Picard), tries his best to protect the boy, who is, of course, an emblem of innocence in stark contrast with the kind of theological totalitarianism that poisoned Quebec`s real past. Distributor Alliance-Vivafilm`s decision to release Babine on the cusp of the holiday season positions it as a family picture. Even the film’s dark edge and sexual shenanigans are mild compared to Careful’s rooting around in mother-son incest and other deviations.  As I write, the Quebec film industry`s hope that Babine will rake in a pot of gold is being nurtured by the film`s first ten days of box-office. Playing on 76 screens, Picard’s fable earned over $1 million, and ranked 2nd in the province, just after Twilight. Whether or not this unconventional picture will score as big as Quebec’s hit comedies remains to be seen. Whatever the numbers, Babine, which Picard dedicated “to our fathers,” is a guaranteed award-winner that will trigger plenty of learned analysis. As for other recent releases, Simon Lavoie’s Le déserteur (see November’s Inside Quebec), a modest picture about an AWOL World War II soldier, did better box office than Paul Gross’ Passiondaele, a $20 million aspiring epic about a World War I soldier who dies in battle. And Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight, while the top earner on its opening weekend, made 10% less in Quebec than in the rest of North America. This result despite the film`s casting of Montrealer Rachelle Lefevre as Victoria, one of the bad vampires who disrupts the delirious romance between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and the angelic bloodsucker (Robert Pattinson), who would never go near her neck.

The Hell Next Door
You don’t have to be a palpitating tween chick to be seduced by the Vampire Lite Twilight, which is not true horror, a genre label Montreal producer Pierre Even rejects for his new movie, 5150 rue des Ormes. Currently in production, the film depicts the ordeal of a young man who falls into the clutches of demented neighbours. Rue des Ormes is novelist-screenwriter Patrick Sénécal`s second collaboration with Éric Tessier, whose 2003 adaptation of Sénécal’s chiller Sur le seuil also rooted around in a world of psychopathic violence. Tessier’s latest features rising star Marc-André Grondin as the victim of Sénécal’s demonic family. Grondin’s irresistible performance in Jean-Marc Vallé’s 2005 hit C.R.A.Z.Y. launched the actor into a career that has included roles in Montreal filmmaker Karim Hussain’s take on Marie-Claire Blais’ novel, La Belle bête, and Steven Soderbergh’s epic bio of Che Guevara. When Grondin auditioned for C.R.A.Z.Y., also produced by Pierre Even, Vallé flipped. “I saw this fucking look,” the writer-director told me a couple of years ago. “The guy was so sexy, and he was so wild.” During the shoot, Vallé confirmed his instinct that Grondin’s charisma was matched by his talent. “He was able to do nothing, and he played violence. He played an orgasm, he was scary, he was pissed. He had to do almost everything on this film.”As for Jean-Marc Vallé’s career, he plans to shoot a dramedy about male rivalry, disco, and women’s footwear. Further down the road, he hopes to direct his own script about the Café de Flore, the legendary Saint-Germain-des-Prés bistro where Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir discussed the pressures of living without meaning, Juliette Greco established black as the colour of choice for boho artistes, and Johnny Depp contemplated Paris in the eyes of Vanessa Paradis. Meanwhile, Vallé’s look at Queen Victoria`s youth, a movie crediting Sarah Ferguson and Martin Scorsese as producers, is being prepped for its imminent release.Another coming attraction, Léa Pool`s Une belle mort (A Beautiful Death), began shooting in mid-November. An adaptation of a novel by veteran journalist Gil Courtemanche (Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali), the movie removes Pool from the youthful characters she`s been exploring since 1999`s ode to teenage female turmoil, Emporte-moi (Set Me Free). In the darkly-toned new picture, the value of a sick old man`s broken life is debated during a family reunion. A while back, Pool complained to me that Telefilm Canada doubted the project even though Quebec culture agency SODEC was eager to fund it. But now both institutions are invested in what turned out to be the first official coproduction between Canada and Luxembourg, where Une belle mort has been filming.

Mystery Woman
Given the troubled and ambiguous female characters she created in movies like La Femme de l’hôtel (1984) and Mouvements du désir (1994), I can imagine Léa Pool being intrigued by telejournalist Francine Pelletier’s doc, La femme qui ne se voyait plus aller (The Woman Who Lost Herself). After a run on the festival circuit, this account of TV show producer Micheline Charest’s tumble from sweet-smelling success into bottomless scandal, not to mention a preposterous death, aired recently on the CBC`s French language network. The timing of the broadcast synched up with a legal case instigated by Claude Robinson, the man widely credited with bringing on Charest’s downfall. On September 4, 1995, Robinson, a graphic designer and writer, lurched away from his TV after seeing a promo for a show called Robinson Sucroe. Created by Montreal-based, internationally known children`s programming operation, Cinar Corp, Robinson Sucroe looked like a knock-off of Robinson Curiosité, an animated show the artist had pitched to Cinar co-founders Micheline Charest and her husband Ron Weinberg. Not only did Robinson head for the nearest RCMP office and launch a multi-million dollar lawsuit that finally arrived in a Montreal courtroom last September and will be argued there until the spring, he obsessively investigated Cinar. Robinson`s relentless probing, along with other inquiries, eventually revealed that Canada`s purveyor of non-violent, moralistic kiddie TV was guilty of “total amorality,” Robinson’s lawyer says to Pelletier.Cinar`s sins included breaking tax credit rules by hiring American writers who hid behind Canadian names; siphoning money from the publicly traded company to pay for private luxuries; and sneaking $122 million (US) of company assets into personal investments. Fake companies, documents, and signatures flourished. Eventually, Charest and Weinberg agreed to paying huge financial settlements, but without admitting to any wrongdoing, or even facing criminal charges, let alone doing time. No current government agency types would speak to Pelletier for her film, but ex-Telefilm Canada head Peter Pearson says about the couple’s tax credit offences, “To construct them as monsters in this environment, I think is a misconstruction. And it didn’t matter what they were doing. They were doing what everybody else was doing.”Francine Pelletier’s The Woman Who Lost Herself suggests that Charest’s heavyweight political connections may have protected her and Weinberg from a fate like Conrad Black’s. The doc also questions why a woman who turned a mom and pop distribution operation into a world-class production company would jeopardize the domain she so carefully constructed.The tightly-structured film packs in copious information about the product of an affluent and pampered background in Quebec city. You can recognize the woman`s sharply-angled, intensely focused face in childhood photos. An aunt says that Charest had everything, but always wanted more faster. She would cut her hair short to enhance her performance in the New York City marathon.In the summer of 2003, I almost had a close encounter with Charest. I taped an on-camera interview about Cinar for Peter Rowe`s Popcorn and Maple Syrup, a doc about Canadian film, and left the studio just before she came in for hers. It was to be her last interview. Charest, who according to a relative had “a lot of masculine energy, but not a lot of heart,” opted for multiple procedures during an April 14 2004 cosmetic surgery her friends thought she didn’t really need. She may have died that day because she was in a rush to accomplish too much too soon.

Northernstars logo imageMaurie 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.

Inside Québec

Inside Québec – July 2008
by Maurie Alioff – Québec Correspondent

Cruise Control

Back in 1989, when opening weekends and other box-office markers were off the radar of most Canadian and Québécois filmmakers, Robert Ménard’s Cruising Bar earned almost $4 million in Quebec alone and sold to 20 countries. The ingeniously designed comedy was an unapologetic crowd-pleaser that showed the way for producers of bigger hits like the Les Boys franchise and Bon Cop Bad Cop.Cruising Bar, just released on DVD, and its brand new sequel, Cruising Bar 2, are driven by Michel Côté’s shapeshifting portrayal of all the film’s main characters. Perhaps inspired by the multiple role performances of virtuosos like Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness, Côté dreamt up the idea of a slapsticky, yet character-oriented film in which one actor plays assorted cartoons of male sexuality. CB 1 follows a night in the lives of four horny 30-somethings desperately seeking hookups; CB2, co-directed by Menard and Côté, picks up the quartet 20 years later.

With seemingly effortless control, Côté alters body language, physiognomy, and vocal inflections as the two movies crosscut between a fat adulterous suburbanite, a svelte yuppie, a long-haired, snaggle-toothed goofball, and a pathetic schlemeil.

In Cruising Bar 2, the cutely nicknamed Gérard the Bull, Jean-Jacques the Peacock, Patrice the Lion, and Serge the Earthworm are faced by mid-life catastrophes. The Bull suffers erectile dysfunction when his wife (Véronique Le Flaguais), fed up with his seedy infidelities, kicks him out of the house. The impeccably groomed, narcissistic Peacock, unable to satisfy his sterile GQ magazine idea of romance, discovers that he might be gay. Meanwhile, The Lion loses his girlfriend and screws up his job as a movie stuntman, just as the lonely Earthworm goes online in a desperate bid to find his dream woman. The movie climaxes with the foursome back on the bar scene, a contemporary one that they don’t really grasp, hoping to find the someone who will ease them out of their troubles.Depicting issues like rejection and humiliation with broad comedy, CB 2 rattles along, a mix of farcical situations, gross-outs, and sight gags. For instance, in a moment recalling comedy master Jacques Tati’s visual humour, the moustachioed Bull’s rotund body sticks out of a tiny red convertible as he zooms home to woo back his wife. When the picture goes satirical, it spoofs 21st century fixations like cell phones and bottled water. And CB 2 might be the first movie ever to feature a slapstick prostate examination. Eventually, the film loses traction during its long and repetitive cruising sequence. When the movie cuts back to The Peacock in yet another gay theme bar, you start getting restless. Nevertheless, it is the film event of the summer, earning $2 million during its first two weeks in theatres.

Distributor Alliance Vivafilm is signalling CB 2s special status by making it the first Quebec release to play in a D-Cinéma, or digital version, on three of 120 screens across Quebec. Moreover, in advance of the film’s June 27 launch, its amusing four minute introduction of Gérard, Jean-Jacques, Patrice, and Serge played Facebook, while Sur le plateau de Cruising Bar 2, a doc look at the picture, aired on Radio-Canada.

Mountain Views

The summer film festival season kicked off with the third edition of a small-scale event in Mount Tremblant, an upmarket resort town in the Laurentian Mountains. From June 18 to 22nd, the Tremblant Film Festival screened 28 features from Quebec, Canada, and other countries, not to mention shorts and children’s films. A program of bucolic outdoor projections highlighted recent Quebec releases like Léa Pool’s Maman est chez le coiffeur and revivals like Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman (1966), the French New Wave director’s ecstatic celebration of romantic passion, the samba, and Mustang convertibles. No heavy-duty deal making up in the mountains, just relaxed schmoozing and viewing.A modestly competitive festival, Tremblant’s jury was headed by French director Gérard Krawczyk (Taxi) and included Québécoise moviemaker Lynne Charlebois (Borderline) and French star Laurent Lucas (With a Friend Like Harry, the hilariously excruciating Calvaire). This “professional” jury, as opposed to a second one composed of Tremblant residents, deemed French actor-director Jalil Lespert’s 24 Bars, an ensemble piece with a jazz-like structure, the fest’s best picture.

Return of the Living FanTasia

Since it was co-founded in 1996 by Pierre Corbeil, president of the top post-production house, Vision Globale, FanTasia has grown into one of the top genre film festivals in the world. A communal ritual for the cinephiles, fanboys, and gore hounds who pack its screenings, the event runs for a mind-boggling three weeks. The devoted audience cheers, laughs uproariously, and hushes down whenever there’s real art on the screen. FanTasia introduced modern Asian cinema, and directors like Johnnie To and Takeshi Miike, to North America long before Hollywood kicked off its remakes of hits like Ringu.This year, the festival programmed its usual mash of American, Spanish, and Thai horror; Hong Kong crime pictures, Japanese extravaganzas, Korean dream films, and out there comedies and documentaries. The movies screen in sections like Bloody Radical-Unconventional American Horror, Animated Auteur Visions, Documentaries from the Edge, From Manga to Cinema, Strange Loves, and so on. Among the many guests FanTasia invited to Montreal, kung fu icon Gordon Liu, Uma Thurman’s demanding teacher in Kill Bill, was anticipated with the kind of excitement that would herald a Second Coming. Liu agreed to host a special presentation of his 1984 epic, Disciples of the 36th Chamber.Of the more than 100 films on Fantasia’s program Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [REC], in which a TV crew videos a horrifying zombie attack, is a Spanish-made take on the current reality horror trend. Meanwhile, Christopher Denham’s Home Movie captures the terror of parents whose videos uncover evil in their children, and the world- premiering Midnight Meat Train is Ryuhei Kitamura’s adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story, once thought to be unfilmable.  For Mitch Davis, Fantasia’s co-director of international programming and highly visible, beating soul of the festival, Home Movie “hearkens back to the seventies style of horror movies that were critiquing the family structure, really going into the power struggles.”FanTasia adepts were also eagerly looking forward to Daniel Myrick’s The Objective, which has the director of The Blair Witch Project finding enigmatic horrors in war-torn Afghanistan; cult director Frank Henelotter’s Bad Biology; Italian horror master Dario Argento’s The Mother of Tears; Johnnie To’s film about pickpockets, The Sparrow; and Japanese madman Takashi Miike’s spaghetti western, Sukiyaki Western Django, a crazed spectacle in which Japanese actors speak phonetic English and Quentin Tarantino does a cameo. Supportive of Canadian and Quebec moviemakinng, FanTasia’s homegrown choices included the fest’s opener, Kim Nguyen’s Truffe, an anti-overconsumption dream film about black truffles suddenly proliferating in a Montreal working class neighbourhood, as well as Jon Knautz’s horror comedy, Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer. And for the first time FanTasia scheduled a weekend of Quebec Shorts, practically a festival in itself.

Giggling in the Dark

Overlapping with FanTasia, and also in its 12th year, the Just for Laughs Film Festival is the gigantic humour event’s movie offering.  Known until this year by the somewhat arcane designation “Comedia,” the JFLFF screens features, runs special events, and hosts guests like current comedy king, producer-director-writer Juddd Apatow. The fest’s popular short films are chosen by Montreal’s globetrotting cour métrage guru, Danny Lennon, who assembles his picks (more than 125 from 16 countries) into two packages: Eat My Shorts and the sometimes jaw-droopingly naughty Eat My Twisted Shorts.As for the features, programmers came up with a slate that includes titles like the French hits Astérix et les jeux olympiques (the opening film) and Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (the closer). The Apatow-produced Pineapple Express is a stoner action comedy while two Canadian made pictures go dark. Chaz Thorne’s Just Buried zeroes in a couple (Jay Baruchel and Rose Byrne), who embark on a murder spree to supply corpses for their failing funeral parlour.  Duncan Christie’s Confessions of a Porn Addict is a mockumentary with Spencer Rice (Kenny vs. Spenny) as a successful married man who just can’t get enough cum shots.Just for Laughs’ chief operating officer Bruce Hills is delighted by his movie component’s growth spurt in quantity and quality. During an interview, its producer Paul Ronca told me that 2008 is a banner year for appearances by top comedy film names like Judd Apatow (Superbad, Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), Jason Reitman (Juno) and Dany Boon, whose Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis is the highest grossing French film ever made.Showdown at the CRTCLike poker pros in a high stakes game, they sized each other up. It was early June, and Maxime Rémillard, who with his brother Julien runs movie production and distribution company Remstar, faced CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein. The Rémillards, who for some reason want to expand into television, had announced that if they took over collapsing TV network TQS (Télévision Quatre-Saisons), they would wipe out news coverage, thereby breaching the federal agency’s broadcast regulations. The Quebec media, unions, and politicians were not happy with the plan, nor was the no-nonsense von Finckenstein. Not only did he want to see a “Plan B” later in June, he insisted on checking out the Rémillards’ business and personal finances.Von Finckenstein dealt a tough hand, but the brothers knew they had aces up their sleeves. TQS was haemorrhaging millions, and if the Rémillards didn’t rescue it, a major TV outlet would sink, dragging its employees into EI. So by the end of June, Remstar had not really backed off. Instead of deploying conventional news gathering and reporting, they proposed that TQS would handle current affairs in interactive “discussion” programs. Some commentators imagined something like Lou Dobbs nightly CNN show, but the Rémillards might be envisioning a shock jock approach that could attract the young demographic they hanker after.Von Finckenstein blinked and okayed Remstar’s application with a proviso of what the CRTC terms “strict conditions,” the main one being that TQS content will be reviewed in three years. The chairman wants to give the network a chance to renew itself, but CRTC commissioner Michel Morin offered a dissenting opinion, arguing that the decision sets an unhealthy precedent.Trickle DownEven before the threat of an actors’ strike in the U.S., the big shows stopped coming to town. Following high-profile American productions like Get Smart, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and The Curious Case of Benjiman Button, which brought $260 million to Montreal last year, the 2008 slate has dwindled to nada. Earlier in the year, the city lost Roland Emmerich’s latest apocalypse spectacle, 2012, to Vancouver, and Daniel Day-Lewis insisted on relocating Nine, the musical adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 8 1?2, to the UK.Beyond the lost glitz and the fortunes of big players, people like a veteran film worker I spoke to recently are the ones who get hurt most deeply by the slide. He can’t find gigs on local productions because they are being snapped up by crewmembers who normally man lucrative American shoots. Sadly, an Assistant Director he knows is now available for production assistant jobs.

Northernstars logo image Maurie Alioff is a film journalist, critic, screenwriter and media columnist. He has written for radio and television and taught screenwriting at Montreal’s Vanier College. A former editor for Cinema Canada and Take One, as well as other magazines, he is affiliated with the Quebec media industry publication, CTVM.Info. His articles have appeared in various publications, including Canadian Cinematographer, POV Magazine, and The New York Times. He is the Québec Correspondent for northernstars.ca.

Inside Québec – April 2008

Inside Quebec - April 2008

Inside Québec – April 2008
by Maurie Alioff

Classic Quebec

Yves Simoneau’s 1987 adaptation of Anne Hébert’s dark and complex novel, Les Fous de bassans, is one of four pivotal movies that have just been released on DVD. The others are Jean Beaudin’s version of another respected literary work, Le Matou (1985); George Mihalka’s bouncy hit comedy, La Florida (1993); and Catherine Martin’s restrained depiction of constrained female sexuality, Mariages (2001).

As an ensemble, these films offer contrasting images of Quebeckers at points in time ranging from the prim 19th century to the free-wheeling 1990s.

Set in the mid-thirties, Les Fous de bassans reveals the guilty obsessions and simmering violence of a small town through the eyes of a prodigal son returning home. While Beaudin’s Le Matou also has a dark side, the movie’s serio-comic tone is closer to Dickens than William Faulkner. The picture has a timeless aura suitable for novelist Yves Beauchemin’s best-selling allegory about a young Québécois couple whose dream of owning a corner restaurant is both supported and betrayed by a demonic outsider known as Egon Ratablavasky. The movie’s cast highlights today’s busiest male lead, Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge (Les Trois p’tits cochons, La ligne brisée), in his first big role as a homeless little boy.

As for Catherine Martin’s Mariages, her directorial debut portrays a young woman whose budding sexuality and thirst for freedom are hard to express in Victorian times. La Florida, written by Suzette Couture and directed by George Mihalka, might as well be taking place on another planet. The rambunctious movie depicts a Quebec family’s quest to escape icy Montreal for the El Dorado of motel ownership in Hollywood, Florida, a resort town that is to Quebeckers what Miami Beach once meant for Jews. The cast includes Marie-Josée Croze, in her screen debut and now featured in international hits like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and the ubiquitous M’sieu Lemay-Thivierge.

At a launch of the new DVDs, organized by top distributor Alliance Vivafilm, Yves Simoneau told me that back in the early 1980s he was a “very naïve young director who was offered a piece of literature that was defined as unadaptable.” But with Anne Hébert’s approval of his cinematic approach to Les Fous de bassans, and producers who gave him complete freedom, Simoneau experienced “a connection with the poetic side of that movie that was unique. I had never felt that before, and I never felt that after.”

Known for period pieces like his Emmy-winning HBO movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007), Simoneau focuses on the “human behaviour and emotions,” rather than the time-frame of a piece. In the case of Les Fous de bassans, “It’s the outcast who’s coming back, a traditional, classical theme that you see in movies, in literature, in poetry.

”One of the few Quebec moviemakers to seek out and score an American career, Simoneau has himself returned home to Quebec after years in Los Angeles. Once “your name is known, and people have seen your work,” he explains, “there’s a shift, and when you feel that shift happening, you don’t have to be there anymore.” While fond of California, Simoneau craved the intimate living that he grew up with in Quebec and wanted his children to connect with it.

Also making an appearance at the Alliance launch, Catherine Martin talked about her need to be in touch with her Québécois roots. For the writer-director, Mariages is all about “things I wanted to say about Quebec and its women. It was very important to show people like my grandmother, or my great-grandmother. It’s this feeling of continuity and transmission from mother to daughter, and the importance of the past in terms of what makes us human beings in the present.”

As for seasoned moviemaker George Mihalka, he’s delighted that after so many years, La Florida “still holds. The pictures hold, the acting holds, the look holds.  It doesn’t look like it was a film done 15 years ago.” The comedy works, Mihalka continues, “because the working class dream is still there, a dream that in the early nineties was treated in a very sombre, way and from an almost Marxist-Leninist perspective.”

Mihalka recalls that back in 1993, Quebec critics disdained La Florida because it laughed affectionately at Quebeckers’ American dreaming, rather than savaging it as deviant a la Pierre Falardeau’s Elvis Gratton movies. “We were trampled to the point that it was vicious. None of the reviewers wanted to admit they had an uncle or aunt exactly like that hidden in the closet somewhere. We tried to do Capra meets an Italian comedy, which was just not the mode.” In 2008, when comedy rules in Quebec cinema, “these same people talk about the film as a classic. It reminds me of the communist system I grew up under in Hungary. You get rehabilitated.”

Poison Pill

For Mihalka, the Harper government’s notorious Bill C-10 is also a flashback to his youth behind the Iron Curtain. “It is an aberration,” he says, “but we can’t just blame the Conservatives. It was slipped in during the Liberal regime although I don’t think it was as invasive or intrusive as it is now.” Mihalka also objects strenuously to the fact that C-10 was “hidden in a 500 page omnibus bill in a very innocuous way.”

As if the industry were not plagued by enough uncertainties to keep it in a chronic state of the heebie jeebies, filmmakers must now lose sleep over an apparent attempt to resurrect the prudery that once drained the life out of Canadian filmmaking. The intended legislation would force producers to return tax credits if their shows, according to a shadowy tribunal adhering to undefined rules, violated the “public interest.”

“We have all the checks and balances in the legal system to decide what is either obscene, or pornographic, or subversively detrimental to our society,” Mihalka continues. “If Bill C-10 passes, it’s going to be very difficult to finance a film. Which bank is going to give you bridge financing knowing that after you’ve shot the film, somebody might decide that you have to give back money? It’s a poison pill, and I don’t think they really thought about that.”

What kind of material would be considered assaults on sensitive Canadians? No one is saying, but Mihalka believes that a movie like Juno “could possibly be objectionable.”  Obviously, David Cronenberg should watch his step, and The Trailer Park Boys might consider surrendering to Mr. Lahey’s will. And forget about Young People Fucking 2, given that C-10 was probably triggered by the Prime Minister’s horrified reaction to the Toronto Film Festival’s warm embrace of the mildly titillating, Telefilm-Canada supported YPF 1.

The bill, which has been condemned by Quebec’s Société des Auteurs de Radio, Télévision et Cinéma and the Association des réalisateurs et réalisatrices du Québec, is being resisted by the Liberal opposition from Stéphane Dion on down. If not withdrawn, C-10 could lead to a climate in which a pitch for Anne of Green Gables Meets the Beachcombers would be the only safe bet.

Raging Buddies

Once again, a Quebec-made film, playing only in Quebec, has topped Canada’s box office. This time it’s TV series director Louis Choquette’s La Ligne brisée, a cranked, ultra-macho boxing picture. The story, written by Michelle Allen, zeroes in on best friends Danny (the aforementioned Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge) and Sébastien (David Boutin), whose relationship gets rocked when their drunken, reckless behaviour leads to a highway accident.

Once on the verge of pro-boxing championship, Sébastien devolves into a wounded and embittered loser deeply resentful of Danny, now a rising fighter. When he’s not coming on to his physiotherapist (Fanny Mallette), Sébastien provokes Danny into a bout that is the movie’s climactic sequence. In La Ligne brisée, the ring is an arena for working out shame, rage, and various levels of male rivalry, including sexual.

The film’s pungent mise-en-scène of gyms, glistening musculature, sports bars, and low rent apartments, is accompanied by growls of headbanger music. Aiming at the high-voltage fight sequences of Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby (both lead actors trained with pros) La Ligne brisée’s boxing action plays credibly. But ultimately, what imaginary pugilism can hold a candle to Peter Griffin’s immortal combat with Big Chicken on Family Guy?

Clouded Christal

Although Quebec’s industry is continually buffeted by waves of high drama, Christal Films’ revelation that it’s looking for a partner with enough cash to nurse the ailing firm back to financial health came as a shock. Christal, driven by its ambitious president Christian Larouche, produced and distributed both Quebec’s biggest 2007 hit, Les Trois P’Tits Cochons, and the successful teen comedy, A vos marques…Party! Larouche’s woes include being sued by Technicolor over money the postproduction operation claims is owing.

Also in business news, the Quebec government investment agency, the Societé Generale de Financement, must be having worried meetings about Alliance Films’ loss of a profitable output deal to distribute American studio New Line’s movies in Canada.

Just a few months ago, the SGF shelled out $100 million for a big share of Alliance, insisting that the company’s head office set up in Montreal, where the company originated. Once ruler of the Canadian distribution scene, Alliance is now up against two new potentially beefy operations: Entertainment One, which snapped up Montreal distributor Seville Pictures, and Maximum Films, the latest brainchild from Robert Lantos, Alliance’s co-founder.

As for Quebec’s TV world, its ailing “black sheep,” broadcaster Télévision Quatre-Saisons, will be brought in from the cold by Montreal distribution and production company, Remstar. Founded about 10 years ago by brothers Julien and Maxime Rémillard, Remstar was bankrolled by their father, “waste management” kingpin Lucien Remillard (pictured at right). As producers, the Rémillards have come up with international co-ventures like Head in the Clouds and Battle in Seattle, (both starring Charlize Theron) and Québécois titles like Ma Fille Mon Ange. Now they’re expanding into the television business.

The Remillards once told me that they didn’t read a lot of how-to books, or attend seminars about the industry. They jump in and learned about how things work by doing them. The Remillards want to update TQS, nudging it away from what they call “traditional broadcasting,” and find a way to make it work in the YouTube era.

Best and Worst

The smart and tasty Festival International du Film sur l’Art, run by founder René Rozon for 26 years, screened a mind-boggling program of 300 films from 30 countries over a span of ten days in March.

Festivalgoers saw movies about Andy Warhol, Lucian Freud, Keith Haring, Bob Marley, Simone du Beauvoir, the Cirque du Soleil, and young sub-Saharan women who paint striking decorations on the walls of their houses. A competitive event, FIFA’s Grand Prize went to Netherlands moviemaker Jeroen Berkvens’ The Father, the Son and, the Talent, a doc about a jazz guitarist whose drug addiction has endangered gifts that have been compared to the legendary Django Reinhardt’s.

Among the numerous films about moviemakers, including Roman Polanski and British provocateur Ken Russell, Josée Dayan’s Jeanne M – côté cour, côté cœur, tells the story of screen icon, Jeanne Moreau. Viewers at the screening were delighted by the surprise appearance of the living legend, physically but not spiritually a long way from the bohemian goddess she incarnated in François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962), the late moviemaker’s celebration and lament for total romantic freedom.

Moving From the sublime to the ridiculous, Montreal’s last X-rated theatre, the Cinéma L’Amour was the setting for the bestowal of the annual Aurore awards. Named for La Petite Aurore l’enfant martyre, which the organizers consider one of best worst films ever, the prizes honour the inept and the annoying.

For instance, the Aurore for the film that’s been “talked about too much” went to Denys Arcand’s L’âge des tenebres. Sylvie Léonard in the same picture took the Liquid Paper Prize for the Female Performance that will Disappear from Her C.V. This year, the jury wanted to honour  “an actress who’s been overly recognized in the role of a neurotic forty-something or fifty-something careerist.”

Northernstars logo imageMaurie Alioff is a film journalist, critic, screenwriter and media columnist. He has written for radio and television and taught screenwriting at Montreal’s Vanier College. A former editor for Cinema Canada and Take One, as well as other magazines, he is affiliated with the Quebec media industry publication, CTVM.Info. His articles have appeared in various publications, including Canadian Cinematographer, POV Magazine, and The New York Times.