Quebec cinema, p. 2
by Michel Houle

from Jump Cut, no. 22, May 1980, pp. 9-14
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1980, 2005

Us, the Ordinary People

After having tried to define the Québécois culturally and free them from the folkloric and ideological image of French-Canadians, a certain cinema of the early seventies will try to reintegrate them back into society and have them ask themselves about the place that they occupy therein and about the cleavages and the conflicts that are shaping that society.

Almost all of the Quebec filmmakers of that period emphasize, in the definition of their characters, the economic and social position of their protagonists. Their psychology, their attitudes, their aspirations and individual or collective frustrations stem from that and are rendered intelligible because of their relationship to this social position. The phenomenon is very general and visible in films as diverse as LE TEMPS D'UNE CHASSE (ONCE UPON A HUNT, Mankiewicz, 1972) or ON EST AU COTON (IN THE COTTON), LA NOCE EST PAS FINIE (THE WEDDING ISN'T OVER, Forest, 1971) or QUESTION DE VIE (A MATTER OF LIFE, Théberge, 1970), TOUTE LE TEMPS, TOUTE LE TEMPS, TOUT LE TEMPS… (ALL THE TIME, F. Dansereau, 1969) or ON EST LOIN DU SOLEIL (WE ARE FAR FROM THE SUN, Leduc, 1971), LES VOITURES D'EAU (RIVER SCHOONERS, Perrault, 1968) or LES COLOMBES (THE DOVES, Lord, 1972) or even TIENS-TOI BIEN APRÈS LES OREILLES À PAPA (HANG ON TIGHT, Bissonette, 1971), etc.

In opposition to the cinema of the second period that had emphasized the cultural backdrop, this cinema will choose the economic and political arena to try to perceive, understand, and analyze the society and the collectivity of Quebec. It will do so in a very obvious way, through films that deal directly with the fate of the working class: ON EST AU COTON, LE MÉPRIS N'AURA QU'UN TEMPS (HELL NO LONGER), DANS NOS FORÊTS (IN OUR FORESTS, Bulbulian, 1971), ON A RAISON DE SE REVOLTER (WE ARE RIGHT TO REVOLT, Comité d'Action politique, 1973)[22]; films that interpret notable events in our social and political history: BINGO (Lord, 1974), LES ORDRES (ORDERS, Brault, 1974), ACTION (Robin Spry, 1973) for the "October Crisis"; ST-DENIS DANS LE TEMPS (ST. DENIS THEN AND NOW, Carrière, 1969) for the events of 1837; [23] LES SMATTES (WISE GUYS, Labrecque, 1972) or CHEZ NOUS C'EST CHEZ NOUS (HOME IS HOME, Carrière, 1972) for the closing of the villages in the Matapedia Valley; [24] L'ACADIE, L'ACADIE (ACADIA, ACADIA, Brault and Perrault, 1971) for the Moncton confrontations, [25] etc. But, to repeat, it is by relating its characters more directly to the economic and social structure that this cinema, in a more diffuse but also more general way, is going to testify to this shift.

Concerning the cleavages and conflicts that shape society, some films will look for their origins in the functioning of the capitalist mode of production itself, in class relationships and struggle. Instead of trying to define the culture of Quebec and the commonality of interests of Québécois as the second tendency had tried to do, instead of showing what Québécois living in a flat in Westmount [26] and a shack in Beauce or Abitibi share in common, as Gilles Carle put it, [27] they are going to linger over exposing divergences of interests, establishing that there are several Québécois cultures because our society is stratified into classes with opposing interests. These films will very often compare or confront ways of living as a means of articulating their point. ON EST AU COTON (IN THE COTTON) is completely structured on a parallel montage of the events and chores in the life of a textile worker and those of a big boss in that industry. LE MÉPRIS N'AURA QU'UN TEMPS (HELL NO LONGER), while showing us the modest house where a construction worker lives and the one he is building on L'Ile des soeurs, [28] definitely does not try to glorify what these people "share in common." RICHESSE DES AUTRES (OTHER PEOPLE'S WEALTH, Bulbulian, 1973) will successively confront the working and safety conditions of Chilean miners before and under the Allende regime and then the situation of Chilean and Quebec miners. The comparison is made between two types of social development. Whatever the circumstances, these films and many others (DANS NOS FORÊTS, 24 HEURES OU PLUS [24 HEURES OR MORE, Groulx, 1972], Y' A TOUJOURS UN MAUDIT BOUT [THERE'S ALWAYS A DAMN ENDING, Collective, 1974], ON A RAISON DE SE REVOLTER [WE WERE RIGHT TO REVOLT], to use only examples from direct cinema) state, at least implicitly, that there is no homogeneous collectivity in Quebec, that social groups with opposite interests are fighting each other, and that it is by intervening at this level that a country fit to live in can be given to the majority of Québécois.

Nevertheless, some other films do not even seem to have considered these assumptions, ST-JÉROME (Dansereau, 1968), for example, refuses to see the economic crisis that it tries to analyze as being the result of contradictions, the class struggle and its specific effects (massive layoffs, factory shutdowns), or as being directly related to the fact that, in these struggles, capitalists are in a position of power, of dominance. On the contrary, this crisis is presented as being a "curse" of quasi-natural origin which "falls from the sky" and which can only be countered through the combined and "disinterested" efforts of Capital, the State, the local petty bourgeoisie, and the reformist trade union apparatus. [29] In the same way, films like FAUT ALLER PARMI LE MONDE POUR LE SAVOIR (IT IS NECESSARY TO GO AMONG THE PEOPLE TO KNOW THEM) or WAKE UP, MES BONS AMIES, while inevitably "showing" us the obvious differences between the capitalist Chaput, comfortably ensconced in his bourgeois home, and the scrap-metal dealers of Drummondville — or even between these same scrap-dealers and the unionized workers of G.M., who are fighting for their linguistic rights, between Didier Dufour, Doctor of Science, and André Lepage, worker for Gulf Paper — do not consider these differences as significant with regard to the problematic that they are developing. Once these differences are assumed, almost accepted, they are relegated to the background; they do not seem to generate conflicts. They do not interfere with "the desire to live together" nor with identifying with our "family-album."

Most of Quebec cinema chooses this second view of things and thinks more in terms of "ethnic classes rather than social classes, to use the expression of the sociologists Rioux and Doffny. [30]

This second view regards the capitalist Chaput, who cannot expand any further because of the Anglo-Saxon bankers, and the G.M. workers, who are deprived of their linguistic rights, as interdependent, having primordial common interests that suspend or remove the contradictions or the class antagonisms that could separate them. Of course, the cases of Dansereau and Perrault are a little extreme. If Quebec cinema essentially adheres to this notion, it reduces the range of the social classes which constitute, in its opinion, that "ethnic class." We could say it makes this notion coincide with the "us" of the Front commun intersyndical of 1972 [31] (surely the second most important political event after the October Crisis): us, the ordinary people.

In this sense ON EST LOIN DU SOLEIL (WE ARE FAR FROM THE SUN), LA MORT D'UN BUCHERON (DEATH OF A LUMBERJACK, Carle, 1973) and LES ORDERS, through their various characters, will be the most accomplished and coherent attempts to take a census of these ordinary people and their social strata. These classes of society are the ones placed between the sub-proletariat and the intellectual, professional, or merchant petty bourgeoisie. They are represented by the lumberjack, the welfare worker, the unemployed, the night watchman, the country singer, the textile worker, the taxi driver, the publicist, the grocery store owner, the nightclub owner, the writer, the doorman. If they sometimes mistakenly commit aggression against each other, they have fundamental solidarity with each other: they are to a different degree products of the same history (WE ARE FAR FROM THE SUN), playthings of the same economic system (DEATH OF A LUMBERJACK), victims of the same political repression (ORDERS).

Excluded therefore from these ordinary people are the small capitalists, the middle bourgeoisie and its agents who revealingly are often associated with politicians: i.e., THE DOVES, ET DU FILS (IN THE NAME OF THE SON, Garceau, 1971), BINGO, RÉJEANNE PADOVANI (Arcand, 1973), and more recently PANIQUE (PANIC, Lord, 1977). It is a notable fact that only one or two films of the more commercial cinema (i.e., LES AVENTURES D'UNE JEUNE VEUVE /THE ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG WIDOW, Fournier, 1974) have chosen the Quebec businessman, the head of a company, the highly placed civil servant, in other words, the "bourgeoisie," as a sympathetic central character. Almost all of the films of this period, O.K. LA LIBERTÉ (Carrière, 1973), BAR SALON (Forcier, 1974), DEUX FEMMES EN OR (TWO WOMEN IN GOLD, Fournier, 1970), etc., have chosen their protagonists from the popular classes, have rigorously used this position to define their characters, and have portrayed not only their differences but everything that they share in common with each other.

We can say that the main goal of Quebec cinema in this period is to consolidate the togetherness, the identity of the people of Quebec, to depict them through these ordinary people. This can be easily explained within a context where the nationalist ideology of the Parti Québécois is on its way to becoming dominant, a conjuncture directly determined, what is more, by the "October Crisis" which has largely been interpreted as a maneuver by the federal authorities to break the independentist impulse of Québécois.

Furthermore, because of this ideological and political conjuncture, many of the films that we have already mentioned, which implicitly situated themselves in a class position, have been read in a strictly 'nationalist" perspective. Insofar as they emphasize the "enormous gulf" in their confrontations (Bertrand Saint-Onge versus Edward F. King; the lumberjack, the miner, the Quebec worker versus C.I.P., Iron Ore, I.T.T., or Gulf Paper), we often keep in mind only the opposition between the national interests of Québécois and foreign interests — Canadian or U.S.. Besides, even the most militant cinema has generally limited itself to these same enormous gulfs; rarely has it attacked the attitudes of the worker's aristocracy or certain union setups: see, for example, the questionable ambiguity with which 24 HOURS OR MORE presents the demobilizing antics of a Laberge (an important union leader).

On a thematic level, there is a phenomenon that we must emphasize: the interest being shown in subcultures (micros-milieux), first of all the small and big mob in Arcand's LA MAUDITE GALETTE (DAMN MONEY, 1971), RÉJEANNE PADOVANI, and GINA (1975) but also visible in LA GAMMICK (THE GIMMICK, Bodbout, 1972), ON N'ENGRAISSE PAS LES COCHONS À L'EAU CLAIRE (PIGS ARE SELDOM CLEAN, Lefebvre, 1973), TI-MINE, BERNIE PIS LA GANG (TI-MINE, BERNIE AND THE GANG, Carrière, 1976); and then the world of transvestites, prostitutes, etc., in IL ÉTAIT UNE FOIS DANS L'EST (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE EAST, Brassard, 1974) and TONI, RANDI, AND MARIE (Hallis, 1973). We can explain, this craze for subcultures as being a result of the pressures exerted by the new industrial structure and the C.F.D.C. to make more attractive, via the exotic and the gory, a cinema that was sometimes persisting in the minute portrayal of everyday gestures (Leduc's WE ARE FAR FROM THE SUN and TENDRESSE ORDINAIRE [ORDINARY TENDERNESS, 1973], Lefebvre's LES DERNIÈRES FIANCAILLES [LAST DANCE, 1973], and even the work of Brault) or we can even interpret it as the premonitory sign of a fascination that "marginals," the "people on the fringe," will soon exert on Quebec cinema.

Dissidents, Marginals, and Minorities

Critics attentive to the evolution of Quebec cinema have recognized the fascination of recent production with marginal groups. It is a fact that we should probably relate immediately to wider ideological currents. We could link this fascination to a certain shifting of the ground and the stakes in the ideological struggles occurring in most industrialized countries, in the same way that the emergence in Quebec of a political cinema, or of a fiction cinema on the left — a militant cinema, a cinema interested in showing workers, in sounding the consciousness of the working classes — was participating in the period we have just dealt with in a general movement towards the "politicization" of cultural practices.

This shifting, this sliding, was the first inkling of the broadening of struggles, which until now had been centered mainly on economic and political grounds. At the time we talked about new fronts in the struggle: the movements for feminism, for ecology, for regional autonomy, for "sexual liberation" were some of these. But what was emerging was going to become something other than a numerical addition of levels, of places of struggles. It was another perception of the "power relationships" which shape societies. To horizontal class stratification and the relationships of dominance (exploiting classes/ exploited classes) that result, to the determination in the final instance by economic factors, the partisans of this movement were going to choose a new model of social space in terms of center/ periphery. The key word in this system will not be exploitation but repression. And here we can say that ideological factors will in the last in stance be the determinant.

In the center we find the middle, as well as the working, classes, political apparatuses from the left as well as from the right (invested, it is said, with the same normative ideology), the complex of repressive and ideological apparatuses of the State, in other words, the System and all those who participate in it. On the periphery, we find all those whom the System rejects, declassés, coops into its institutions: the non-productive people (the aged, the insane, the diseased), the dissidents (ideological or "criminal," delinquent), the minorities (racial, ethnic, sexual). Of course, I am exaggerating in the interests of brevity. This is not the place to make a detailed analysis and criticism of this new ideological configuration. I only want to point out a tendency that seems to be growing in importance and that consists, amongst other things, in judging the "quality" of a society by the degree of tolerance it displays towards its marginal people.

It appears that this wind has also blown over Quebec cinema and its effects are varied. Lets start with cases of neglect or absence. If we have previously been able to count about ten feature films, using examples from direct cinema alone produced between 1968 and 1973 which dealt specifically with the economic relations of production, you would be hard put to find one amongst Quebec production since 1974 (I'm talking about feature films). The average worker, the textile worker, the construction worker, the miner, or the lumberjack are not interesting subjects anymore, at least as workers per se. If we see workers again it will be as patients confronted with the medical establishment or as single parents in a society which is not prepared for this, etc.

What subjects will interest the direct cinema? First of all, the ethnic minorities, Native People, of JUSTE POUR PARTIR LE MONDE (JUST TO LEAVE THE WORLD, Binamé, 1974), the CARCAJOU AND THE WHITE PERIL series, no doubt the next films of the ABITIBI-BAIE JAMES series (Perrault, 1977), and numerous short- and medium-length films by Bernard Gosselin, Boyce Richardson, etc.; and the Acadians and Cajuns [32] of the LE SON DES FRANÇAIS D'AMÉRIQUE series. It will deal with old people in AU BOUT DE MON AGE (AT THE END OF MY DAYS, Dufaux, 1976), ROSE ET MONSIER CHARBONNEAU (Côté, 1976), MONSIEUR JOURNAULT (Côte, 1976), LES JARDINS D'HIVER, and a few others; with the mentally and physically disabled, LA LEÇON DES MONGOLIENS (THE LESSON OF THE MONGOLOIDS, Moreau, 1974), JULES LE MAGNIFIQUE (JULES, THE MAGNIFICENT, Moreau, 1976), and in a more general way with those that are excluded, to use the title of the series of films made by Moreau, Daviault, and Favreau (LES EXCLUS), which include in this category epileptics as well as single mothers, chronic patients and young delinquents, blind people and alcoholics.

One can easily perceive what has changed. The cinema of the sixties and the first years of the seventies were always searching for identity. Through these people who are just like us, these "ordinary people," whom it used as its characters, it was trying to assert the specificity of the Québécois people, its distinctive emblematic characteristics. And one of the factors which contributed to the strengthening of this collective awareness was the revelation of the economic and political exploitation of these people by others, the others being the federal political power, Anglo-Saxon capitalism, and U.S. imperialism. Therefore, one can say that, at about the midpoint of the seventies, this growing awareness of belonging to a people, of being a people, caused no further problems anymore; it is an established, accepted fact. As a result Quebec cinema feels free from its obligation to supply models of identification. Instead, it can concentrate on the internal workings of this collectivity, on those who are suffering from the disdain, the indifference, the revulsion, and the racism of these same "ordinary people."

Because of this, and this is important, the terrain of economic exploitation and class relations is forgotten; this terrain is slippery in the sense that if we stay within the Quebec collectivity, we call into question the conflict between the petty and middle bourgeoisie, who aspire to political and economic power, and the working classes. It is evident that in its majority, the class of social-artisans of the cinema have no stake in insisting on these conflicts. The fact that it is implicitly recognizing its class interests, or the fact that this majority is hiding behind these tactical choices (waiting until after independence), does not make any difference. It then chooses to direct its attention to other areas, towards the margins of society. Here we go again. This area has been well covered by the films mentioned earlier and by many others, L'INTERDIT (THE FORBIDDEN, Maheu, 1976) as well as BEAT (Blanchard, 1975), JOS CARBONE (Tremblay, 1975) as well as L'EAU CHAUDE L'FRETTE (A PACE-MAKER AND A SIDE-CAR, Forcier, 1976), TONI, RANDI, AND MARIE as well as, in its own way, LE GARS DES VUES (THE PICTURE MAKER, Lefebvre, 1976). The fringe is well represented, with Carle's usual efficiency, in LA TÊTE DE NORMANDE SAINT-ONGE (NORMANDE, Carle 1975), with its collection of people on the margins of society, united against the Family, Morality, and Medicine, in other words, Normality, and who are shown as being more or less pleasantly "mad" (Normande, her mother, the old woman with the rats), "disconnected" from reality (Bouliane) or from the living (the necrophiliac sculptor).

Of course, this doesn't mean amalgamating all these titles under the label "films about marginals" or blending them into an undifferentiated ideological mix. There are many approaches to marginality in these films. There is already a large gulf between the Christian humanism reflected in Guy Côté's ROSE ET MONSIEUR CHARBONNEAU, BLANCHE ET CLAIR (1977), LES VIEUX AMIS (OLD FRIENDS, 1976), films which often appear to be dedicated to the generosity, compassion, and devotion of Hubert de Ravinelle, his wife, and the filmmaker himself rather than to the old people; the institutional reformism of Georges Dufaux's LES JARDINS D'HIVER (GARDENS OF WINTER), AT THE END OF MY DAYS, A VOTRE SANTÉ (TO YOUR HEALTH, 1974); and some of the films of the LES EXCLUS series. There is an enormous difference between the marginals socially located and depicted in L'EAU CHAUDE L'FRETTE (A PACEMAKER AND A SIDECAR), and the spaced-out "last men" in JOS CARBONE: or between the passive, if not lazy, attitude adopted by Mireille Dansereau, who limits herself, through the device of interviews, to recalling the behavior of people faced with institutions like marriage (J'ME MARIE, J'ME MARIE PAS) (TO MARRY OR NOT TO MARRY, 1973), or the family (FAMILLE ET VARIATIONS (FAMILY WITH VARIATIONS, 1977), and the pleasantly aggressive provocations of a Gilles Carle towards the same institutions. There are basic variations of approach, of objectives, of methodology, and of ideological orientation. And some of these films do succeed in understanding the web of causes and implications of marginalization.

This is especially true in the case of the CARCAJOU AND THE WHITE PERIL series, which is one of the most important filmic events of the last ten years. First of all, because it reverses some of the fundamental givens of our own cinema. Quebec cinema to that point had essentially seized and represented the Quebec community through the prism of the notion of "ethnic classes," and if occasionally it had been interested in other ethnic groups, they were branches, related groups, francophones, Cajuns, or Acadians (LES ACADIENS DE LA DISPERSION [THE ARCADIANS OF THE DISPERSION, Forest, 1968], ARCADIA, ARCADIA, LE SON DES FRANÇAIS D'AMÉRIQUE [THE SOUND OF THE FRENCH IN AMERICA]) that were threatened by common "ethnic class enemies," with assimilation. To a certain extent, even when the images that were being reflected back to us were not always gentle with our passivity and our resignation, we were still given the "nice role." Similar to the period of the nationalist ideology of self-preservation that marked the cinema of the forties and the fifties — we were always victims who were in the right.

Now, with this "Chronicle of the North-East Indian," we find ourselves on the other side of the fence, on the side of the assimilators. CARCAJOU AND THE WHITE PERIL throws our racism, our ethnocentrism, in our faces. It reveals our active collusion in that ethnocide from which we have collectively profited.

CARCAJOU doesn't stop there. It also gives us a few clues to help us understand that this dispossession, this deculturization, is inevitably linked to the development of capitalism and imperialism. It suggests that in order to check this ethnic genocide, to halt our complicity in it, we must move towards a complete transformation of the economic/political system and consequently cannot absolve or justify our actions by comforting ourselves by our "openness of spirit," our "sympathy for the Native People's cause. Lamothe does all this by letting the Native People of the North-East speak for themselves (only LE PASSAGE DES TENTES AUX MAISONS [MOVING FROM TENTS TO HOUSES] is centered on the conversations of ethnologist Remi Savard), and who better can lead us to the heart of their history and their cultural otherness?

What about the "theme" — in this case the expression is not really adequate — of the feminist or the woman's film which has also been present in almost all periods since 1960, like the LA FEMME HORS DU FOYER series (WORKING MOTHER series, NFB, 1974) or DE MÈRE EN FILLE (MOTHER-TO-BE, Poirier, 1968), CE N'EST PAS LE TEMPS DES ROMANS (THIS IS NO TIME FOR ROMANCE, F. Dansereau, 1967), LE VIOL D'UNE JEUNE FILLE DOUCE (GIRL, Carle, 1968), LA VIE REVÉE (DREAM LIFE, M. Dansereau, 1973, A MATTER OF LIFE, etc.. The emphasis put on this "theme" during the last few years is mostly a result of outside phenomena: International Women's Year, the growth of the feminist movements, the grouping of women filmmakers in the NFB [33] to produce the series EN TANT QUE FEMMES (SPEAKING AS WOMEN, Poirier, producer, 1973+).

This series was not very penetrating (if we except LES FILLES DU ROY [THEY CALLED US "DAUGHTERS OF THE KING," Poirier, 1974], an aggressive fresco on the history of Quebec as seen through the fate of its women). It dealt, of course, with urgent and controversial questions, day care centers in A QUI APPARTIENT CE GAGE? (WHO OWNS THIS CHILD?, Collective, 1973), abortion in LE TEMPS DE L'AVANT (BEFORE THE TIME COMES, Poirier, 1975), but it often did not go much further than the superficial portrait: J'ME MARIE, J'ME MARIE PAS (TO MARRY OR NOT TO MARRY), LES FILLES C'EST PAS PAREIL (WITH GIRLS, ITS NOT THE SAME, Girard, 1974). Even if this series did not result in women filmmakers going on to direct films in private industry (with the one exception of Brigitte Sauriol), we can still point out, even though we cannot state that there is a cause and effect relationship, that a certain interest in "feminist" subjects has since developed; I'm thinking of L'AMOUR BLESSÉ (WOUNDED LOVE, Lefebvre, 1975), J.A. MARTIN PHOTOGRAPHE (J.A. MARTIN, PHOTOGRAPHER, Beaudin, 1977), but most importantly of LE SOLEIL A PAS D'CHANCE (THE SUN DOESN'T HAVE A CHANCE, Faureau, 1975), without a doubt the most virulent denunciation to date which shows the many ways of creating the female object: how she is lured, selected, bought, made up, how and for whose profit she is exploited; but also how she comes to convince herself and the people around her that this degradation, this manipulation, is, on the contrary, a valorizing and "enriching human experience."

The film is also interesting because, by choosing the election of the Queen of the Quebec Winter Carnival as its subject, it breaks with two important currents in Quebec cinema. The first, quite recent one, a current of cultural self-valorization, includes many films, very often produced with big budgets, which extol through their pretty pictures some of our large public celebrations or cultural events: FRANC JEU (FAIR PLAY, Lavoie, 1975), QUÉBEC FÊTE — JUIN 75 (QUEBEC CELEBRATES — JUNE 1975, Labrecque, Jutra, 1976), LA VEILLÉE DES VEILLÉES (THE WAKE OF WAKES, Gesselin, 1976), JEUX DE LA XXIe OLYMPIADE (THE XXI OLYMPIC GAMES, Labrecque, 1976), MESDAMES ET MESSIEURS LA FÊTE (LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE HOLIDAY, Danis, 1977), and even 15 NOV (Brault and Mignault, 1977). [34] One cannot reproach anything in these films, except the dullness of some of them (FRANC JEU, MESDAMES ET MESSIEURS LA FÊTE) and the fact that they ignore the real ideological, economic, and political stakes that these events conceal. This is especially true in the case of the Superfrancofête and the Olympics, but it can also be the case in such apparently "innocent" events as those shown in LE SOLEIL A PAS D'CHANCE.

Secondly, confronted with this national institution — the Quebec Winter Carnival — totally conceived, organized, and administered by dyed-in-the-wool Québécois, we cannot use the English or the multinationals as our excuse. Even if there are a few gaps and shadowy areas in this argument, it is quite clearly revealed that the ones who are profiting from this are the Québécois petty and middle bourgeoisie, just folks from down home, who live off the tourist industry. They are the ones who exploit the frustrations and the yearnings of those daughters of the working class who have dreams of escaping from it all. In this respect LE SOLEIL A PAS D'CHANCE has provoked a certain discomfort amongst Péquiste [35] militants. One of them, avoiding the problem and playing in a subtle way on the origins of the production (it was made by the National Film board), declared that he perceived the film as a federal view of us Québécois. In other words, in the face of the evidence, re-identify the enemy as other.

Before concluding, I want to underline an important development: the fact that production of French-speaking theatrical films is slowing down. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of the films I have mentioned have been distributed through the medium of television and by the community circuits of the NFB. We could add to this list the films that Jutra, Carle, Arcand, or Mankiewicz have directed for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto. A very small number have had the benefit of normal distribution in our cinemas. And we have had to search for them amongst films like BORN FOR HELL, THE PARASITE MURDERS, THE MYSTERY OF THE MILLION DOLLAR HOCKEY PUCK, BRR…, SPECIAL MAGNUM, JACOB TWO-TWO MEETS THE HOODED FANG, BLOOD RELATIVES, ILSA THE TIGRESS OF SIBERIA, [36] and more, all produced and/or directed in Quebec, that I have chosen to eliminate from my discussion. The way things are going one might ask that if someone were to write an article on the same subject three, five, or seven years from now, would they still even have this choice? Perhaps only if they resign themselves to writing on some ideological and thematic aspects of Quebec Television productions.


1. Direct cinema. This characteristic form of documentary filmmaking in Quebec, as elsewhere in the French-speaking world (Jean Rouch is its progenitor in France), is the area of the greatest achievements of the Quebec cinema. It is distinct from its Anglo-Saxon counterpart cinema-verité, in its greater interest in speech as an element in its own right, its self-reflexivity, and its skill in intervening as a catalyst in social situations. For more on direct cinema see Louis Marcorellas, Living Cinema, trans. Isabel Quigly (New York: Praeger, 1973).

2. Maurice Duplessis (1890-1959). Quebec's strongman during the banana-republic days: strike-breaking, red-baiting, cardinal-courting, baby-kissing. Duplessis is also seen as a precursor of contemporary indépendantistese for his fervent nationalism and his refusal to bow to Ottawa. His death in 1959 after two decades in power marked the beginning of the Quiet Revolution.

3. October Crisis. In October 1970, cells of the Front de Libération du Québec kidnapped a British diplomat and then a Quebec cabinet minister, subsequently executing the latter. Ottawa and the Quebec Liberal government responded by sending the army into Montreal, invoking the War Measures Act to give the police extra-constitutional powers to counter the threat of "apprehended insurrection" and rounded up hundreds of nationalists, radicals, and unionists for indeterminate jail sentences. Michel Brault's LES ORDERS (1974) and Robin Spry's ACTION (1973) are the best film versions of the Crisis, fiction and documentary, respectively.

4. Etats-généraux. A 1968 congress of Quebec filmworkers which formalized the increasing politicization of the Quebec cinema. The major result was the formation of the CQDC, the Quebec Council for Film Distribution, which played an important role in the promotion and distribution of Quebec film until 1976, the era that saw its consolidation as a major national cinema.

5. The Manifesto of the APCQ. The Professional Association of Quebec Filmworkers who had called the Etats-généraux also issued a manifesto that year strongly criticizing those Quebec filmmakers following the economic, aesthetic, and ideological models of the dominant U.S. cinema, as well as the film policy of the Quebec and Ottawa governments. The manifesto was entitled "Cinema: Another Face of Colonized Quebec" and was translated in Cineaste 5, no. 3 (Summer 1972): p. 21. This issue of Cineaste has a lot of material on cinema in Quebec.

6. CFDC. The Canadian Film Development Corporation, a film financing body founded by the federal government in 1968, has had an overwhelming effect on the evolution of the Quebec (and English Canadian) cinema: in the early seventies its policies directly resulted in a golden era of promising auteur features, seldom profitable or systematically distributed and more recently in the current glut of identity-less international co-productions (e.g., CITY ON FIRE, MURDER BY DECREE).

7. Denys Arcand, "Cinéma at sexualité," Presqu'Amérique 1, no. 3 (December 1971-January 1972), Montreal. (M.H.)

8. Cooperative Movement. Quebec's banking and savings system is based in large part on a network of cooperative neighborhood credit unions (caisses populaires) begun near the turn of the century (in some areas of English Canada as well) in order to help the little people combat the power of the big central banks.

9. These statistics are from Nine Voisine's Histoire de L'Eglise catholique du Québec, 1608-1970 (Montreal, 1971). (M.H.)

10. Renaissance Film Distribution. This film-producing corporation, active during the forties and fifties, financed by individual Catholics, stimulated a wave of feature films notable for their rustic, populist flavor and Catholic ideology.

11. This is true especially of Montreal; when the sixties cinema drags us out into the countryside or the hinterland, you find, well situated, the clergy. The two curés of Ile aux Coudres are very much present in MOONTRAP, the one from BROS MORNE (Giraldeau, 1967) directs the citizens committee of this small Gaspé village with an iron fist; even in ST-JEROME the canon Grand-Maison retains an unchallenged hold over the union movement, etc. (M.H.)

12. Quebec Ministry of Education. Until 1964, education in Quebec had been controlled by the Church, Quebec being the only province without a state school system. The foundation of the provincially administered educational system was an important landmark of the Quiet revolution, nurtured by the Liberal government of the early sixties.

13. Coopératio. One of the short-lived experiments in independent film production companies during the sixties (1963) started chiefly by refugees from the National Film Board like Pierre Patry.

14. Léo Bonneville. The editor of the oldest film magazine in Quebec, Sequences, funded by the Church.

15. The Montreal Forum is the home of the hockey team, the Montreal Canadians.

16. Québécois. The replacement of the self-appellation "French-Canadian" by Québécois during the late sixties has connotations roughly equivalent to the rejection of Negro by U.S. blacks during the same period.

17. Quiet Revolution. The period of rapid modernization and liberalization that overtook Quebec after the death of Duplessis, marked by the progressive secularization of Quebec society, the reform of the educational system, the nationalization of private electric companies, increasing urbanization, and growing nationalism.

18. Front de Libération du Québec. The FLQ was a militant nationalist group responsible for many acts of terrorism during the sixties and early seventies but known primarily for their role in the October Crisis of 1970. At one point, their best known spokesperson was Pierre Vallières, whose stirring manifesto, Nèqres blancs d'Amérique is available in an English translation as White Niggers of America.

19. Parti-pris (A Stand Taken). This influential political and cultural review, published in Montreal between 1963 and 1968, was the rallying point for the young Québécois left during the decade. The nationalist struggle was seen as the first step towards social revolution.

20. Socialisme québécois. An intellectual review that succeeded Parti pris during the early seventies, not associated with any specific political formation or action.

21. The Rassemblement pour l'independence nationale (1960-1968) and the Ralliement national were the two major independentist groups of the sixties; the latter merged with René Lévesque's Sovereignty-Association Movement in 1968 to form the Parti Québécois and the RIN dissolved soon after.

22. The Parti libéral du Québec is the provincial equivalent of the federal Liberal Party, currently in the Opposition and the major federalist party in the independence debate.

23. Events of 1837. In 1837, anti-colonialist uprisings occurred in both Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec), the latter the more serious of the two. Though defeated by British troops, the events led to the absorption of Quebec in a united Canadian colony (1841), the establishment of responsible colonial government in British North America, and finally to Confederation in 1867, the foundation of the current Canadian state. The Patriotes, the doomed but hardy peasants who held out through three bloody battles (including the short-lived triumph at St. Denis) are folk heroes for contemporary Québécois. Another film depicting the events of 1837 is QUELQUES ARPENTS DE NEIGE (A FEW ACRES OF SNOW, Denis Héroux, 1972).

24. The federal governments appropriation of rural communities in the Gaspé for a new national park. Ironically it was also Ottawa (in concert with Quebec City) that had first promoted colonization of the area as a solution to the Depression two generations earlier.

25. Agitation by Acadian students in the early seventies for a better French-language educational system.

26. Westmount. This wealthy anglophone suburb of Montreal, the traditional bastion of English Canadian privilege, has more than once been called the Salisbury of Canada. Beauce and Abitibi are rural areas.

27. Carol Faucher and Michel Houle, Gilles Carle (Cinéastes du Québec, no. 2, Montreal, 1976).

28. Ile des Soeurs is a luxury apartment complex.

29. For a more detailed analysis of ST-JEROME, see Lucien Hamelin and Michel Houle, Fernand Dansereau (Cinéastes du Québec, no 10, Montreal, 1972), pp. 5271. (M.H.)

30. See the application made of this concept by Michel Brulé to the work of Pierre Perrault in Pierre Perrauit ou un cinéma national (Montreal, 1974). (M.H.)

31. Front commun intersyndical. The All-Union Front is a coalition of unions of civil servants and hospital and school employees who successfully struck for improved conditions and pay in 1972 and have repeated the tactic twice since that year.

32. Acadians. The descendents of the original French settlers of the Maritime provinces expelled by the British in 1755. Those who returned settled primarily in New Brunswick. Cajuns are the descendents of those who remained in exile in the bayou regions of Louisiana.

33. National Film Board of Canada. Since 1939, this state-financed film studio has been the training ground for English Canadian and Québécois filmmakers alike. Centered in Montreal since 1956, the Board has played a formative role in the evolution of the Quebec cinema, Griersonian idealism providing a major source of the Quebec direct cinema. Virtually all significant directors have worked at one time at the Board, and Quebec's two best filmmakers, Denys Arcand and Gilles Groulx, have the further honor of having had major political works suppressed there, ON EST AU COTON (IN THE COTTON) and VINGT-QUATRE HEURES OU PLUS (24 HOURS OR MORE), respectively.

34. The date of the election of the Parti québécois to the provincial government in 1976.

35. Péquistes. Supporters of the Parti québécois, the independentist party, in power since 1976, who are holding a referendum in 1980 on political sovereignty for a Quebec tied by economic association with English Canada.

36. Mostly English-language genre films or international co-productions with few pretensions to a Quebecois identity.

Directors Guide

Denys Arcand. Scriptwriter and director, b. 1941. A veteran of the NFB in the sixties, Arcand left in 1971 after completing two brilliant political documentary features, QUÉBEC, DUPLESSIS ET APRÈS (QUEBEC, DUPLESSIS AND AFTER, 1971) and ON EST AU COTON, the latter suppressed. Since then he has combined genre fiction with radical analysis in three features, LA MAUDITE GALETTE (DAMN MONEY), RÉJEANNE PADOVANI, and GINA, and a successful dramatic TV mini-series on Duplessis.

Michel Brault. Cameraperson, scriptwriter, director, and producer, b. 1928. A founding father of the Quebec direct cinema during the Quiet Revolution, Brault was also cameraperson for Rouch in France. Continuing his work until the present in this tradition, he has also succeeded in cross-fertilizing fiction with direct cinema by photographing such features as MON ONCLE ANTOINE and directing the distinguished features, ENTRE LA MER ET L'EAU DOUCE (DRIFTING UPSTREAM) and ORDERS.

Gilles Cane. Scriptwriter and director, b. 1929. Another NFB refugee, he came into his own with a series of personal, commercially successful features in the seventies, including LA VRAIE NATURE DE BERNADETTE (THE TRUE NATURE OF BERNADETTE, 1972) and NORMANDE, one of a long series of collaborations between the director and star Carole Laure.

Mireille Dansereau. Scriptwriter and director, b. 1943. The leading feminist director in the independent circuit, Dansereau is best known for her 1972 feature, DREAM LIFE. Her most recent feature, L'ARRACHE-COEUR (HEARTBREAKER, 1979), a distinctly Québécois combination of INTERIORS and FACE TO FACE, explores mother-daughter relations within the bourgeois family.

Gilles Groulx. Editor, scriptwriter, and director, b. 1931. A key figure in the outpouring of documentary creativity within the NFB during the Quiet Revolution, Groulx spoke definitively to a whole era and generation with his first dramatic feature, the Godardian CHAT DANS LE SAC. He has directed four major essay-type features since, all at the NFB though his relationship with this institution has been very stormy: 24 HEURES OU PLUS was suppressed for five years and won the Quebec Critics Prize upon its belated, half-hearted release in 1977.

Claude Jutra. Scriptwriter, director, and actor, b. 1930. The best known Québécois director abroad, this acclaim is based on a single film, MON ONCLE ANTOINE. Jutra has directed many others, however, both documentary and fiction, and between 1960 and 1973 was a major voice of the auteur cinema. Since then, a victim of commercial setbacks and the tax-shelter pseudo-Canadian film boom, he has bitterly resigned himself to television and feature projects in English Canada.

Arthur Lamothe. Scriptwriter, director, producer, and editor, b. 1928. Another NFB veteran, Lamothe's major contribution lies in independent political documentaries, notably his LE MÉPRIS N'AURA QU'UN TEMPS (HELL NO LONGER), a definitive late-sixties manifesto of the urban proletariat, and CAREAJOU AND THE WHITE PERIL, the definitive film of what Houle sees as the marginals period of the seventies.

Jean-Pierre Lefebvre. Scriptwriter, director, and producer, b. 1941. Quebec's most prolific feature director, Lefebvre's films have for the most part been produced independently. A personal auteur whose forte is Godard-style essay fiction, he has also made superb genre films (ON N'ENGRAISSE PAS LES COCHONS DE L'EAU CLAIR / PIGS ARE SELDOM CLEAN) and has recently been experimenting with slow-paced narratives of great acuity and maturity, including the fine feminist film, WOUNDED LOVE.

Jean-Claude Lord. Scriptwriter, director, and producer, b. 1943. A major commercial director of the mid- and late seventies. His films are mostly genre pictures treating epic social themes with an epic flair: BINGO, a cynical Québécois STATE OF SIEGE; PARLEZ-MOI D'AMOUR (SPEAK TO ME OF LOVE, 1976), a gentle NETWORK; and PANIQUE, a CHINA SYNDROME before its time.

Pierre Patry. Director, scriptwriter, and producer, b. 1933. One of the earliest of the independent feature directors of the Quiet Revolution, his films belong to what Houle sees as a cryto-Catholic reversed problematic: CAIN, LA CORDE AU COU (THE ROPE AROUND THE NECK) and TROUBLE-FÊTE. Patry-s production company Coopératio was briefly successful in its attempt to plant an independent film industry in Quebec in the sixties.

Pierre Perrault. Director, b. 1927. Sometimes called Quebec's national filmmaker, Perrault was the high priest of the direct cinema and of what Houle calls the furor for speech of the new Québécois of the sixties. Best known for his documentary trilogy on an isolated island community in the Saint Lawrence, Perrault's reputation has plummeted with the arrival of the Parti Québécois into power, his ardent populist nationalism no longer seeming so subversive.

Anne-Claire Poirier. Director and producer, b. 1932. The prestige francophone woman director at the NFB, Poirier has directed and produced many essays and documentaries on feminist themes. Her most recent film, an essaystyle narrative on rape called MOURIR A TUE-TÊTE (PRIMAL FEAR, 1979) was an unexpected commercial hit at home and played the New York and Chicago festivals.

Distribution Guide

Selected Quebec films available in the United States in English versions (briefly described only when not mentioned by Houle or by Tom Waugh in the footnotes). All are features unless otherwise indicated.

1. Bauer International Pictures, 695 West 7th Street, Plainfield, NJ, 07060. (201) 757-6090. Four films by Jean-Pierre Lefebvre: LES DERNIERES FIANCAILLES (LAST DANCE); Q-BEC MY LOVE (1969), a bitinq essay-satire on nationalism and neo-imperialism and cinema; L'AMOUR BLESSÉ (WOUNDED LOVE) and LE VIEUX PAYS OU RIMBAUD EST MORT (THE OLD COUNTRY WHERE RIMBAUD DIED, 1979), a kind of ROOTS of Quebec: a seventies treatment of a sixties theme, the hero in search of his ancestors in France. They also distribute Diane Létourneau's LES SERVANTES DU BON DIEU (THE HANDMAIDENS OF GOD, 1979), a documentary feature on an order of nuns whose vocation is to serve priests, demonstrating that direct cinema is still very healthy.

2. New Yorker Films, 16 West 61st Street, New York, NY, 10023. (212) 2476110. LES ORDRES by Michel Brault.

3. Films Incorporated, 440 Park Ave. S., New York, NY, 10016. (212) 8897910. MON ONCLE ANTOINE by Claude Jutra and Gilles Carle's LA TÊTE DE NORMANDE SAINT-ONGE (NORMANDE). The 35mm print is available from Fred Baker, 1780 Broadway, #800, New York, NY, 10019.

4. United Artists, 729 Seventh Ave., New York, NY, 10019. (212) 575-4715. A TOUT PRENDRE (TAKE IT ALL) by Claude Jutra.

5. New Line Cinema, 853 Broadway, New York, NY, 10003. (Toll Free 8002215150) LA VIE REVEÉ (DREAM LIFE) by Mireille Dansereau and Claude Jutra's KAMOURASKA, an adaptation of Anne Hébert's novel about a historical woman of Quebec who murdered her husband in the early nineteenth century, starring Genevieve Bujold in her pre-EARTHQUAKE days.

6. The National Film Board of Canada, 16th Floor, 1251 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10020. (212) 586-2400. Most NFB films have voice over translations rather than titles and many need as much as two months advance order. Pierre Perrault's L'ACADIE, L'ACADIE; POUR LA SUITE DU MONDE (MOONTRAP); and WAKE UP MES BONS AMIS. QUEBEC, DUPLESSIS ET APRÈS (QUEBEC, DUPLESSIS AND AFTER, Denys Ancand. J.A. MARTIN, PHOTOGRAPH (J.A. MARTIN, PHOTOGRAPHER, Jean Beaudin). LA VIE HEUREUSE DE LÉOPOLD Z (THE MERRY WORLD OF LEOPOLD Z, Gilles Carle). LE TEMPS D'UNE CHASSE (ONCE UPON A HUNT, Francis Mankiewicz). Anne-Claire Poirier's DE MÈRE EN FILLE (MOTHER-TO-BE); LE TEMPS DE L'AVANT (BEFORE THE TIME COMES); and LES FILLES DU ROY (THEY CALLED US THE DAUGHTERS OF THE KING). ET DU FILS (IN THE NAME OF THE SON, Raymond Garceau). JUSQUAU' COEUR (RIGHT TO THE HEART, Jean-Pierre Lefebvre). QUESTION DE VIE (A MATTER OF LIFE, Andre Theberge). LES BRÛLÉS (THE PROMISED LAND, Bernard Devlin), a fifties epic of the era of colonialization of new lands to the north as a solution to the Depression. AU BOUT DE MON ÂGE (AT THE END OF MY DAYS, Georges Dufaux). And three Anglo-Quebec documentaries of unusual quality: TEMISCAMING QUÉBEC (Martin Duckworth, 1975), about an experiment in workers control of a factory in a bilingual paper town; ACTION (Robin Spry); and CREE HUNTERS OF MISTASSINI (T. Ianzelo and B. Richardson, 1974).