Quebec Cinema at Guadalajara Film Festival

in 29th Guadalajara International Film Festival

by Jorge Gutman

Having set out to present the best cinema that Latin America has to offer, the 29th edition of the Festival Internacional de Cine de Guadalajara (FICG), which spanned from the 21st to the 30th of March, has confirmed itself once again to be one of the most important cinematographic and cultural events in Latin America.

Following a tradition initiated thirteen years ago of inviting a country or region as guest of honour to introduce the best elements of its cinema, this year the distinction fell upon Quebec, that province whose cinema is especially held in high regard within Canada. The FICG therefore presented a retrospective of Denis Côté, one of Quebec’s foremost movie directors.

The homage to Quebec began with director Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle, a touching film detailing a love story between two handicapped young people who find solace in music. With a sensibility reminiscent of her first full-length drama film Familia (2006), Archambault casts Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, a 22-year-old actress with Williams syndrome, as Gabrielle, a girl likewise afflicted. The story revolves around Gabrielle’s relationship with Martin (Alexandre Landry), a fellow her age suffering from similar health issues whom she met at a Montreal community choir. In an emotional and sentimental manner never delving into the tired and clichéd touchy-feely, the filmmaker does a good job dispelling our prejudices vis-à-vis those people suffering from mental deficiencies who despite their impediments achieve a sort of independence by way of being autonomous and able to love. The result is a very human story that dignifies disabled people by showing that they are capable of joie de vivre too.

Also noteworthy is The Dismantling (Le Démantèlement), a moving family saga set in rural Quebec that shows how far a father is willing to go for his daughters. Written and directed by Sebastian Pilote, the film tells the story of a veteran sheep herder forced into the soul-wrenching decision of dismantling his beloved farm (akin to amputating a limb) and selling the family home in order to help his eldest daughter (Lucie Laurier) out of a costly marriage crisis. With restrained emotion, this excellent human drama is carried along by the wonderful work of Gabriel Arcand. A good cast of secondary characters and the excellent portrayal of French Quebec rural life offered by Pilote are additional factors that distinguish this production.

Another film of notable quality is Triptych (Triptyque), based on the play “Lipsynch” by the great Canadian playwright Robert Lepage, a magnificent screen adaptation directed by the author in collaboration with Pedro Pires. As indicated by the title, this triptych is structured in three parts, each revolving around a specific character though part and parcel of the same storyline. While not following a specific chronological order, a foregoing conclusion is easily inferred from the sum of the parts, whereby each character attempts to communicate here by words, there by voice or memory circumventing the solitude engendered by their health constraints. With remarkable performances by Lise Castonguay, Frédérique Bédard, and Hans Piesbergen, this movie strikes up an intellectually stimulating triptych which translates into an emotional experience made possible by the human element and a colourful aesthetic palette, picturesque images and musical fragments impeccably melded to the plot.

A brief review will flash special focus onto Denis Côté’s two latest movies, starting with Vic+Flo Saw a Bear (Vic+Flo ont vu un ours), which picked up the Alfred Bauer prize at last year’s Berlin Film Festival. Despite Côté’s insistence on more than one occasion that he prefers cinematography and mise-en-scène over a conventional plot, this film proves to be fairly clever at both. The form in which it is narrated nourishes the viewer’s suspense and expectation: as the scenes unfurl, Côté’s script slowly fills in the blanks while subtly forcing the spectator to reorient himself mentally in order to view the action from the individual characters’ points of view. What in the first scenes appears to be some sort of lunatic comedy slowly gives way to a romantic twist between Vic (Pierrette Robitaille) and Flo (Romane Bohringer), two middle-aged lesbians recently out of jail. Suddenly we are in the midst of a story of vengeance which culminates in an unexpected drama. The result is an original and witty film distinguishing itself with well-formed characters and attractive cinematography.

His recent film Joy of Man’s Desiring (Que ta joie demeure) is a documentary that focuses on factory workers and their labour. Although Côté goes about defining the interrelation between man and machine within the context of an industrialized society, in no way does he attempt to emulate that extraordinary Chaplin film Modern Times; rather, he limits himself to exposing varied workplace vignettes. At times the camera remains fixed on this or that worker’s complexion, as though taking a picture; in others special focus is devoted to their lunch hour or, even, on a labourer who has seemingly spent the last three years of his life manning the same machine; also, we may witness an African man expressing his resentment and disappointment over his toil. With laconic and abstract dialogue that is for the most part inconsequential, it is difficult to see what Côté is aiming for. From a broad perspective it might be inferred that workers’ alienation toward their work motivated him to direct this film. As with his previous work, and despite the joyless nature of the subject, Joy of Man’s Desiring is infused with a certain poetic tone that always simmers on the back-burner and is occasionally brought into the forefront, such as in the final scene, in which a young boy playing the violin for the workers forces from them a tender smile.

Edited by Carmen Gray