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Quebec cinema: classic and lite.

At the beginning of Gilles Groulx's Le chat dans le sac (64), Claude, the film's restless young protagonist, gazes into the camera and tells us he's a "French Canadian," trying to "live intelligently" in a society that prevents him from achieving this elusive goal. Not only did Groulx's influential movie announce and attempt to foster revolt against the forces obstructing the lives of people like Claude, it also proposed a new identity for Quebec cinema. Groulx ignored the conventions of narrative film in favour of the spontaneity and intimacy he, Michel Brault and other moviemakers achieved in NFB documentaries like Les raquetteurs (58) and Golden Gloves (61).

These experiments in direct cinema, made by tiny crews using lightweight equipment, captured the expressive faces and body language of ordinary people in images recalling photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Doisneau. The exuberant rebelliousness of the documentaries and fiction features that came in their wake demonstrated that quebecois people with their ritual activities--even the silly ones--were engaging in a vibrant, self-defining culture that had survived military conquest and cultural assimilation.

Eventually, direct cinema techniques blended into more formalistic, and even conventional, approaches. But for directors like Groulx, Brault, Claude Jutra, Pierre Perrault, filming intelligently continued to mean seriousness of purpose: the painful groping toward an authentic quebecois identity (a tout prendre, Le chat dans le sac, Pour la suite du monde among numerous other pictures); exposure of social and political corruption that is not always redeemed by identity (Denys Arcand's Rejeanne Padovani); a fascination with marginalized outsiders (Gilles Carle's La vrai nature de Bernadette; Andre Forcier's Bar salon); and an investigation of complex, tormented human relationships (Francis Mankiewicz's Les bons debarras).

Parallel to this filmmaking--defined as classically quebecois by the cultural media and academics--another tradition pursued less exalted goals. If Classic Quebec Cinema produced succes d'estime ranging from Brault's docudrama Les ordres to Charles Biname's Eldorado (which revives the direct cinema style in the 1990s), Quebec Lite has produced most of the popular hits. Over the years, audiences have flocked to erotic comedies (Denis Heroux's Valerie and Deux femmes en or), slapstick farces (Michel Poulette's Louis 19, le roi des ondes), soap operas (Gilles Carle's Les Plouffe) and thrillers (Jean-Marc Vallee's Liste noire).

Interestingly, Lite overlaps with Classic in the way it's often sprinkled with sociopolitical quebecois themes and concerns. Both almost invariably zero in on ensembles of characters, presenting the image of a group, a collectivity. From Les raquetteurs to Le declin de l'empire americain, Mon oncle Antoine to Le vent du Wyoming, Quebec films revolve around meals, parties, weddings, funerals, "le gang" having a good time, a miserable one, or both simultaneously. Kinetic in their body language, quebecois characters talk, eat, laugh, make love, get depressed, and then reboot the program, seemingly on a different planet from the lonely insurance adjusters, repressed office workers, and tormented hallucinators of numerous English-Canadian movies.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Canadian Independent Film & Television Publishing Association
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Maurie Alioff
Publication:Take One
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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