Here Come The Quebecois. Finally By André Roy

in 58th Locarno International Film Festival

by André Roy

The Locarno 58th cinematographic event has made amends. Up to now, this international film festival has never selected a feature length film from Quebec. Incredible, when one considers the cinematographic history of Quebec. Before retiring from her post as artistic director of the festival, Irene Bignardi selected not one but two Quebecois films for this year’s competition. It is quite exceptional to see two movies from the same country competing in the same program. The video competition also selected a work produced in Quebec.

With The Novena (La neuvaine), by Bernard Émond, and Familia, by Louise Archambault, the Locarno international competition reached its goals by combining high standards with the popular, the classic with the accessible.

The Novena is a movie whose slow and austere pace tells the story of Jeanne, a doctor who feels responsible for the death of her newborn child and that of a woman she welcomed into her home but was later killed by her violent husband. She goes to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, near Quebec City, to pray at the shrine devoted to the saint. There she meets a young man, François, who comes to make a novena for his dying grandmother. She finds in the simple way of life of François the soothing serenity and stability that she so longed for. The movie explores the tragic feeling of life, the problem of fate dominating one’s existence and the responsibility for one’s actions. Bernard Émond’s third feature is reminiscent of Robert Bresson’s and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s style of films, as much for its theme, which deals with the resurgence of Christian morals, as for the perfection and refinement of its style carefully delivered by the graceful movements of the camera.

The first feature length film by Louise Archambault, Familia, is a comedy on the relationship between two generations stuck between the weight of family inheritance, individualism and the fast-pace of our era.

It is difficult to summarize all the events that fill the lives of so many characters in Familia. Above all, the movie depicts the fragile but intense bonds between spouses, parents and children locked in a warp of lies and appearances. It’s a situation comedy rivaled in its genre only by the best sit-coms on American television (one thinks of Desperate Housewives) but more concentrated, in which the different standpoints are intertwined and where the microcosm of a family is described with great acuteness, and obvious fun in filming it. It is vibrant, droll and enthusiastic.

Another work, a first video from Quebec, was praised in Locarno. The video fully deserved the Golden Leopard, as much for its indisputable professionalism as for its passionate rationale. The Drifting States (Les états nordiques), by Denis Côté, relates the physical and moral roaming of Christian, who tries to start a new life in a northern Quebec village, after performing euthanasia on is terminally ill mother. The video mixes different threads of narrative, from fiction to documentary, crisscrossing the many episodes of Christian’s urban life with the lives of characters living in this godforsaken place. The filmmaker makes persistent use of ellipses and synecdoche that produce a simple and keen narrative. Côté’s method of filming is reminiscent of some aspects of 1960’s Quebécois cinéma direct, a nice way, for a young filmmaker, to thank his forefathers.