Written and Directed by Gilles Grouix
A movie that is difficult to find but well worth the effort, Le Chat Dans Le Sac captivates moviegoers through its hand held camera usage, John Coltrane soundtrack, twenty-something characters struggling with the world around them. You don’t have to be familiar with Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, a political movement sparked by the election of Jean Lesage in 1960, in order to understand the film. But there’s a good chance the movie will inspire you to follow up with some research to fully grasp the world these characters are living in. It was the Quiet Revolution that helped Quebec become the secularized Province we know it to be today, shifting the power from the Catholic Church to the provincial government. Le Chat Dans Le Sac tells the story of the Quiet Revolution through the romantic relationship of a moody, struggling journalist, Claude Godbout, and an upbeat, bourgeoisie theatre student, Barbara Ulrich.
Grouix’s filmmaking style is to pull real people into his film, using their actual names and then asking them to improvise dialogue based on the story he is attempting to tell. His style was cinematically game changing, and the reason for the films popularity and intrigue. The film was released in 1964, only four years after the election of Lesage. These characters were speaking towards experiences they were both witnessing and living through. The struggle between both Claude and Barbara emerges from their ideas of moving forward through revolution and change. Claude feels that change will emerge from a philosophical outlook on the transition, while Barbara believes change occurs through both education as well as being an active participant in day-to-day life. By the end of the film, it is up to the moviegoer to decide the most effective approach. Claude’s day-to-day life of reading newspapers, pondering philosophy, and brooding in his apartment has its pros and cons. As he sifts through the headlines, the audience gets a glimpse of the turmoil occurring not only in Quebec, but countries around the world. For example, the Bay of Pigs occurred in 1961, an event that sparked Memories of Underdevelopment by Tomas Gutierrez Alea in 1968. There was also tension between democracy and communism affecting countries east and west. The more knowledgeable Claude becomes of this universal chaos, the more we find him recoiling from society. An action that eventually leads him to leave Montreal and live as a recluse in the countryside. Instead of viewing the turmoil separate from himself, and finding a way to come together with society, he takes on the overwhelming burden of struggle and change as if he is the only one capable of understanding the political implications within Quebec and elsewhere. This act completely debilitates him from performing the resistance he wants to see.
In regards to Barbara, the audience is left to decide whether or not her bourgeoisie upbringing, and twenty-something angst against her parents are two worthy arguments against her point of view. Do these characteristics devalue her opinion and place within Quebec? Indeed she may not be struggling in the way that Claude struggles, but her opinions on how to create change correlate with what many journalists tell Claude, as Claude attempts to become a journalist but continuously fails because his perspective is one-sided and out of touch with reality. Essentially, change comes through connecting with people, support, living in the world that they live in and understanding different perspectives. One of the journalists informs Claude that you can change the system by knowing it and being an active ingredient within it. You can’t write about current events if you’re hiding away in an apartment, brooding on philosophy, critiquing people’s intellect, and smoking cigarettes all day. Indeed Barbara may be young, but her ability to seek out love and other human desires helps her stay in touch with the realities of current events and relate to the others’ struggles. For Barbara, change is a result of education, but also through empathy, connection, and being apart of the system that is changing. This reality helps her stay in touch with the affects of revolution. Although Claude critiques her for devoting a certain amount of time to putting on make-up, it’s Barbara who tells him, “He who hesitates is lost.” Barbara may spend time putting on make-up for her own happiness, but as she says, she’s also thinking during that time, and she’s staying in touch with things that bring her joy unlike Claude who only stays in touch with his exhausted, debilitated mind. Similar to Memories of Underdevelopment, whose main character begins the film by judging society through his telescope, located in his top floor apartment, Claude believes he’s rising above because he devotes every waking hour to thinking. But if all of his time is devoted to thinking, how much time is spent outside, putting his thoughts into action? None.
Le Chat Dans Le Sac is not a story about the revolution told from a political perspective, this isn’t The Battle of Chile, but it is a story about the affects of revolution on a society of people with different backgrounds. Grouix connects his audience through picking real characters, mix of narration, interviews, and conversation between Barbara and Claude. Grouix essentially does what we hope Claude and Barbara do, which is indulge in human desires while at the same time educate and be present within the Revolution. Grouix emphasizes the importance of staying grounded by acting on our needs of laughter, love, and connection, which is what Barbara does. Instead of Claude who is squashed by the immense weight of change, political turmoil, and the people who turn their heads, which causes him to recede without ever doing what he set out to do, make change. In the beginning, Claude claims that he is the cat in the bag, le chat dans le sac. He can’t get out of his thoughts; his interests in philosophy and newspaper headline have imprisoned him, making him unable to physically create change. The cat in the bag is not a positive position to be in, and although Barbara may be apart of the bourgeoisie, she maintains a connection with reality and found a way to create change through her passion. When Claude critiques her petty study of theatre, Barbara informs him that art has the power of creating change just like anything else. It’s as though Barbara was speaking for Grouix, through his method of creating something artistic to speak on impactful events, engaging a larger audience. People involved in current events, as well as people disregarding them can all be found in a theater watching a story unfold on a screen. Grouix’s film emphasizes just how powerful film can be.