The “foreign” film, product of another world where people converse in odd dialects and act in peculiar ways. We need to be honest that the vast majority of films that most people consume every year are either American mainstream blockbusters or studio distributed independent (Sundance) films. There are of course, every year, a few foreign films that do get released in the American market, The selected films that get a push from their government hoping to get that Foreign Language film Oscar nom or other films that manage to make some noise at Cannes might eventually get released in our great NA. But for every Incendies or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 days, that are released to the rabid American market there are dozens of other films that never make it outside of their home market save in the occasional film festival. The Quebec film market produces 30+ films every year, a lot of which are not even seen outside of the actual province. This is a list of great films that you may or may not have heard of that were released in French-Canada this last year. A few of them were on the festival circuit in 2010 but only got a proper DVD release in 2011, so I’ll consider them 2011 films.
My top 5 Quebec films:
Disclaimer: Firstly, these are a few films that I did not have the opportunity to see but which have been getting a lot of acclaim. I’m sure at least one of them would have made this list had I had the chance to see them.
Café de flore
Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y., became a huge hit, when it was released just over five years ago, sweeping both the Quebec (Jutra) and Canadian (Genie) film awards. It is considered one of the greatest Quebec films of all time. His newest Café de flore is about two parallel love stories, the first set in present-day Montreal and the second 1960s Paris. Vallée’s imagery is always stunning and the way he uses music is often both clever and filled with emotion. This is one I’ll be seeking out as soon as it gets a DVD release.
Director André Forcier has been a staple of Quebec cinema since the 70s. So much so that his eclectic mix of dark humour and magical realism have somewhat seeped into the new generation of Quebec films. Forcier’s films aren’t always the greatest but they are always some of the most interesting films to come out of their respective years. Coteau rouge has been getting a good reception here in Quebec and based on the trailer it looks like a whole lot of fun.
Le vendeur (The Salesman) & Marécages (Wetlands)
These two films by first time directors have been getting a lot of good press. The first is Wetlands directed by Guy Édoin, a drama set on a farm in Quebec’s western townships. The other is Sébastien Pilote’s The Salesman about an aging car salesman whose life changes as he nears his retirement. I can’t say much more about these films as I of course haven’t seen them. They both received a really good reception at this year’s TIFF and I’m greatly looking forward to checking them out.
Monsieur Lazhar Directed by Phillip Falardeau
I won’t say too much about this film. Lazhar won best Canadian film at TIFF and has been winning all kinds of other awards. It is a good film held back a bit too much by conventions.
Starbuck Directed by Ken Scott
Starbuck, which I believe is the highest grossing Quebec film of the year, is a light hearted dramedy about a man who finds out he has over 500 children due to donations he gave to a sperm bank when he was younger. The high concept idea is executed quite well and a great performance by Quebec icon Patrick Huard makes this film very enjoyable although occasionally a bit clichéd and cheesy at times.
Now without further ado, ladies and gentleman, the list:
#5 –Décharge (Trash)
Directed by Benoît Pilon
Pierre lives with his family in a trashy neighbourhood where drugs and gang fights are rampant. Owner of a garbage disposal company he makes it his job to keep the streets clean in more ways than one; also occasionally moonlighting as a vigilante, he goes out with his team to beat up local thugs and gangbangers. His life changes when he during one of his late night cleaning sessions he finds a young drug addicted girl passed out in dumpster and makes it his goal to help her out. This film is driven on the strength of the performances, Pierre Boutin and Sophie Desmarais are incredible in the two main roles. The film really works on an emotional level as well, although the metaphors here might be a little too on the nose throughout, everything really works. Director Benoît Pilon is, like Denis Villeneuve, able to make films that can appeal to both mainstream audiences and film buffs, that is why Décharge makes the list.
#4 –Jaloux (Suspicions)
Directed by Patrick Demers
A couple on the fritz go up north to a cottage to try and reconcile their relationship. Unexpectedly, someone is already at the cottage a stranger, an unknown acquaintance. After a drunken night in the cabin, the three of them wake up not exactly remembering what happened. The girlfriend flirts with the stranger, the boyfriend gets jealous and slowly both begin to discover that the man might not be exactly who he says he is. Benoît Gouin, who plays the bad guy, is always amazing in these kinds of roles, although he wouldn’t be happy about me saying this; he just looks like an asshole, his smile is always so fake and mischievous he is perfect for this role. The story is told is a peculiar non-linear fashion as the couple try to remember what happened the night before, the tension rises as they get closer to this man who ultimately could be very dangerous. This film is classic movie making. The suspense here would make Alfred Hitchcock very proud.
#3 –En terrains connus (Familiar Grounds)
Directed by Stéphane Lafleur
Inspired in some ways by Forcier ideas of magical realism, Stéphane Lafleur’s latest takes a look at family dysfunction and ideas of inadequacy. When a man from the not too far future (approximately 7 months) comes and tells Benoît that his sister is going to be in a car accident, he is forced to try and reconnect with her and through a series of odd circumstances ends up taking a trip with her up north. This film is filled with dry humour and quiet empty spaces. A fantastical musical track accentuates the dreamlike qualities of the cold winter landscapes and accentuates the odd tonality of the film.
#2 –Jo pour Jonathan (Jo for Jonathan)
Directed by Maxime Giroux
The film opens with Jo, the protagonist, spying on his older brother having sex with his girlfriend, an awkward yet very telling scene. Jo looks up to his brother and although he doesn’t have that much interest in cars he goes along to his brother’s drag races and tries very hard to fit in; all he wants to do is be cool. This is story about adolescence, about growing up; a bored suburban bum trying to find his place in the world. There is something incredibly poetic about the films of Maxime Giroux as he manages to find humanity in some of the lowest kinds of people. I want to call this the Quebec version of Bellflower, although it is completely different tonally, it does deal with similar themes of what it means to be a man rather than a child. Unlike Bellflower however, it is more preoccupied with true character emotions and development rather than trying to look cool.
#1 –Nuit #1
Directed by Anne Émond
Anne Émond’s Nuit #1 is about sex, more accurately the one night stand. The first 20 minutes of the film contain the act itself; sex, in all its realistic awkwardness, this is neither Hollywood romance nor hyper real cautionary tale, this is the reality of sex, complete with bathroom breaks and condom fetching. The second part of the film is a deconstruction of relationships, sexual and emotional; a portrait of this new generation of underachievers, unhappy and unfulfilled, failed artists, intellectuals lost in inertia, dreamers drowning in sweat and alcohol, finding their only cheap thrills in random sexual encounters. As the female, Clara, tries to leave, the male, Nikolai, intercepts her and asks her to stay. Their following conversations take them, although not in the usual order, through all stages of a relationship, from an all out fight, to a simple disagreement, to just getting to know each other, all in one night. Set in a drab apartment on a rainy night and tinged in golden yellow light of hope this film is both endlessly depressing and somewhat wonderful, especially since it will hit close to home for so many people.