Saturday, 31 January 2015

Quebec - On the Silver Screen

I've been really spoilt for choice this time, as some fantastic movies have come out of Quebec in recent years. I've been a big fan of Xavier Dolan since I saw Laurence Anyways and I can't believe he's only 25 years old, yet he's produced such brilliant films! I also really enjoyed discovering some of Quebec's most talented directors, so I've made a list of movies I would recommend.

Incendies (2010) dir. Denis Villeneuve

Watching Denis Villeneuve's Incendies was a good bridge between Quebec and the last place I blogged about, Palestine. Although the movie has its anchor in Quebec and centres around the story of Quebecois twins, Jeanne and Simon, the action mostly takes place in the Middle East, in Lebanon, where the twins travel to find out about their mother's past and the mysterious identities of their father and brother.

It's an incredibly powerful film and was put forward as Canada's entry for Best Foreign Language film during the 83rd Academy Awards. It's not a movie I'll forget in a hurry and I thought it was beautifully made, well structured and thought-provoking.

Monsieur Lazhar (2011) Philippe Falardeau

Like Villeneuve's Incendies, Falardeau's award-winning movie, Monsieur Lazhar was also put forward as the Canadian entry for Best Foreign Language film, this time for the 84th Academy Awards. The film also links to the Arab world, this time Algeria, as we find out that Monsieur Lazhar is a refugee in Canada, escaping death threats made against his wife, a well-known Algerian writer. Monsieur Lazhar takes up a post in a Canadian primary school where the teacher has committed suicide in the classroom, her body having been found by one of the pupils.

It's a very sad movie and deals with the impact of death and the inability of the adult world to explain death to children without the help of a psychologist. It also deals with the adults' fear of intimacy with the children - the teachers aren't allowed to touch the children or comfort them in any way and there is a definite conflict between the norms of a North American society versus the natural tactile culture of the French-Canadians. I thought this was an incredibly moving film and would highly recommend it.

Mommy (2014) dir. Xavier Dolan

I was lucky enough to see Xavier Dolan's latest movie whilst I was in Montreal, in the really cool Cinema du Parc. Mommy completely blew me away and has to be one of the best movies I've seen in recent years. The quality of the direction is superb and I'm absolutely in love with Anne Dorval, who plays the mother of a violent young man whose behaviour is out of control. I also loved the performances of Suzanne Clement and Antoine Olivier Pilon.

Having spent a few days in Montreal, I could relate to the setting of the movie, as well as the interesting mixture of joual (the French-Canadian dialect of Montreal) and the use of English, which seems to insert itself into every second sentence, often as swearwords! I can't recommend this movie enough. It doesn't seem to be in the cinemas in the UK just yet, so I'm patiently waiting for this movie's release on this side of the Atlantic!

As well as watching Mommy, I also watched the following movies by Xavier Dolan, all of which I loved:

I Killed my Mother (2009)

Heartbeats (2010)

Laurence Anyways (2012)

Tom at the Farm (2013)

Café de Flore (2011) dir. Jean-Marc Vallée

Interweaving two apparently different stories, Café de Flore brings together the lives of six main characters across several generations and links Quebec with its spiritual motherland, France. The contrast between modern-day Montreal and post-war Paris highlights the affluence of the modern age and the poverty of earlier generations - also the affluence of a North American society in contrast to the poverty of a European one.

Vanessa Paradis plays the main role in the French side of the story and the Quebecois actor, Kevin Parent, who is from Gaspé, counter-balances in the modern tale. It's a quirky story, a little bit weird and with a good deal of esotericism. Well worth watching and I loved the soundtrack!

Bon cop, Bad cop (2006) dir Eric Canuel

I don't normally watch 'cop' movies, but I really enjoyed Canuel's 2006 comedy, Bon Cop, Bad Cop. When a dead body is found on the Quebec/Ontario body, two police officers, one from the Sûreté de Quebec and the other from the Ontario police are forced to become partners. At first, they hate it, of course, but by the end of the movie they work as a team and appreciate each other's differences. There's quite a lot of stereotyping, the cautious, staid and 'uncool' officer from Toronto and the erratic, slightly crazy but handsome officer from Montreal.

It's all delivered in a really humorous way and pokes fun at the stereotypes, rather than taking them seriously. It's also a real joy for anyone who is bilingual in English and French, as the dialogue switches rapidly back and forth between the two languages. There is a lot of play on words and use of joual to add a few in-jokes. What was the plot and which crimes were they trying to solve? I can't remember, but it was a fun couple of hours and I laughed a lot!

Barney's Version (2010) dir. Richard J Lewis

Mordechai Richler passed away in 2001 and, I guess that this film version of his 1997 novel Barney's Version is a fitting tribute to one of Montreal's most famous writers. As I've so recently read the book, it was hard for me to look at the film as a stand-alone creation and I couldn't help comparing the details of the film version with the novel. In many ways, I think the film was better at getting the story across than the novel and, when I did manage to 'switch off' and just enjoy the movie, I could get a sense of how poignant the story is, if you concentrate on the theme of 'lost love' and how sad the ending is, when Barney finally meets his demise.

I think I was so impatient with Barney's character in the novel that I'd lost all sympathy for him by the end of the book - the movie didn't affect me in the same way. It had a great cast as well, big names like Paul Giametti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver. Hoffman's son also starred in the movie and I didn't even know he had a son, or that his son is an actor!

One thing I didn't understand about the movie was the place changes - they swapped Paris for Rome and Toronto for New York. There's such a strong historical connection between Quebec and France and the fact that part of the novel takes place in Paris is significant, so I couldn't accept the change of location, as I think it interfered with the original plot.

Jesus of Montreal (1989) dir Denys Arcand

This movie took me by surprise and I was also completely blown away by it. I'm not at all religious, but I thought that Arcand portrayed a very sympathetic interpretation of the Passion of the Christ, which got beyond the need to be a Christian but, rather, explored the powerful message of peace, love and tolerance that Christ's life represents. The acting is superb and a fantastic performance by Lothaire Bluteau, the theatre director who also plays Christ in the passion play.

The movie represents Quebec at the height of it's materialist age in the 1980's. A time when many people no longer believe in God and more material values have taken over. Bluteau plays a theatre director who is asked to stage a performance of the passion of the Christ and does so with such intensity, that the public are genuinely moved and the real power of Christ's message to the world shines through. However, the reinterpretation of Christ's life is deemed blasphemous by the church and they decide to pull the performance. Although the movie is about a play, the movie itself mirrors the passion of the Christ and raises the interesting question of what Christ would think of a modern-day Montreal, obsessed with money, celebrity and exploitation.

C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) dir. Jean-Marc Vallée

I absolutely loved this movie and can't believe that I hadn't seen it before. It's a great family drama about five brothers (Christian, Raymond, Antoine, Zachary and Yvan) and their relationship with their Patsy Cline-obsessed father, Gervais Beaulieu. The story centres around the fourth son Zac and the difficulty he has accepting his sexuality and being accepted by his father. Zac is doted on by his mother, who believes he has a special gift, as he should have been her seventh child (due to three miscarriages) and because he was born on Christmas Day and, therefore, shares a birthday with Jesus.

The soundtrack for the movie is excellent and we follow Zac's story as he grows up in the era of glam rock and then punk. Apparently the music rights for his movie cost CND$600,000, which was a sizeable chunk of the overall budget.

The movie I didn't see

Unfortunately I didn't manage to get my hands on Arcand's 1986 comedy-drama, The Decline of the American Empire.  By all accounts, it's a must-see for anyone who's interested in Quebecois cinema. Ah, well - perhaps I'll come across this movie another time.  In the meantime, I'll post a YouTube trailer for this movie, so you can get a sense of what it's about.

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