Pouvoir intime, or Blind Trust if you’re of the Anglo persuasion, is a film that has more or less fallen through the cracks of time. It was issued on home video once upon a time, in the long-past age known as the VHS era, and hasn’t been seen in a newer format since. Luckily, some enterprising folks at the Fantasia International Film Festival got together with the Cinémathèque québécoise and got them to dust off their 35mm print of the film. Showing these kinds of movies serves a very specific purpose: they add depth and texture to a film culture that was still figuring itself out even in the mid-80s. That said, Pouvoir intime isn’t a dramedy about the middle class, or a political satire, or an NFB documentary. It’s a no-nonsense heist movie, a rarity even in today’s local film climate. So even if the film itself isn’t a groundbreaking take on the genre, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the process of giving established genres a distinct local flavour.
The central conceit of the film is pure pulp-noir gold: a crooked politician (played with remarkable coked-up terseness by Yvan Ponton) wants a file stolen from a security truck, so his shady associate (Jean-Louis Milette) hires a ragtag team of down-on-their-luck thieves to pull off the heist. When the time comes, the hit doesn’t go as planned, and all the guards end up dead, except for Martial (Robert Gravel), who is still alive inside the armoured truck when the thieves make off with it. The film then becomes a battle of wits: Martial locks himself inside the truck with the goods, and the thieves try to flush him out before they get caught. It’s the kind of plotting that B-movie magic is made of, and Simoneau does an excellent job of building tension and atmosphere in the dingy warehouse where most of the film’s back half takes place. He also has a tendency to take his sweet time before cutting, rarely doing so while an exchange is taking place. The long silences and unbroken shots manage to tense up the proceedings effectively, but would likely have been even more effective had the acting been consistent with the tone.
Co-writer Pierre Curzi, who normally excels at playing a very specific kind of upper-middle-class sleazebag, simply does not come off as a credible thug, awesome mustache be damned. For that matter, neither does Marie Tifo, who was cast in the ‘tough girl’ role. The one credible member of the criminal cadre is Jacques Godin, whose creased face and wide forehead makes him look like a cross between Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Lloyd. As an ex-club owner who’s fresh out of jail and ready to pull one last job, Godin demonstrates an impressive emotional range in what could have easily been a cartoon role. But best of all is Gravel. His role is comparatively minor, and he doesn’t get to say a whole lot, but he makes every utterance count. Marcial is a thoroughly anguished character. He has violent outbursts with little provocation. He loves his boyfriend but is clearly not comfortable admitting that to himself. He sacrifices mind and body in order to play the hero when one isn’t expected or even needed. He looks unassuming, even oafish, but all of that doesn’t matter because he has a gun. None of this is written in the script per se, but all of this comes through in Gravel’s performance. Such is the immense skill in his craft; Gravel succeeds in imbuing his fourth-billed character with more depth and nuance than the film’s two leads muster between them.
The end result is a solid thriller with a couple of good performances, some great atmospherics, and a whole lot of genre-film grit. It also features some great location photography, shooting 1980s Montreal through a neo-noir lens. It has its flaws, but what Pouvoir intime lacks in textual greatness, it makes up for in contextual importance. Quebec isn’t known for its superior genre cinema, but that’s not for lack of trying; this movie, along with many others of the same stripe, does exist. The more movies like this that we retrieve from the edge of oblivion, the clearer the portrait of Quebec’s cinema will be. It provides an alternate cinematic narrative that runs parallel to the established one, and gives film-goers a chance to see well-worn tropes bent into a unique shape. Vault-diving for movies like this to show is not only great for the festival, it’s great for local cinephilia as well.
— Derek Godin