This is a follow-up to a previous blog I wrote about Canadian films. I have since watched a vast assortment of Canadian titles and was impressed mainly by the French Canadian films I saw, especially the work of four directors: Claude Jutra, Denys Arcand, Denis Villeneuve, and Xavier Dolan.
Mon Oncle Antoine is one of the few Canadian films released on DVD by Criterion and generally makes any list of the top ten Canadian films of all time. Released in 1971 and directed by Claude Jutra, the film shows us the lives of several characters in a small town in Quebec. A youth named Benoit observes and interacts with several flawed adults including his uncle who is an undertaker, a clerk (played by Jutra himself), and a young boarder named Carmen. The film has a lot of snow, layers of repression, bits of humour, and death.
The library also has an excellent 2002 NFB documentary called Claude Jutra: An Unfinished Story directed by Paula Baillargeon. This film is about the acclaimed filmmaker’s life, work, and struggles to make films in Canada. As Jutra put it, “If I’m so great, why am I having problems financing my next film?” More than 25 years ago, Jutra, age 56, suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s, placed a note in his pocket that stated, “Je suis Claude Jutra”, and jumped off the Jacques Cartier bridge. His body was found the following spring.
Denis Arcand gained international success with The Decline of the American Empire (1986) and Jesus of Montreal (1989). He won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for The Barbarian Invasions (2003) in which Remy Girard reprises his role from Decline playing a terminally ill man who exits the world on his own terms with the help of his son and friends. Arcand actually wrote the script for The Barbarian Invasions before The Decline of the American Empire. It only took him twenty years to get the go ahead to make it!
Denis Villeneuve directed Polytechnique (2009), a docudrama about the Montreal massacre of 1989. He chose to film in black and white, never identifies the killer by name, and the families of the victims gave their approval to the film. Watch the trailer and check out an interview with Villeneuve. His most recent film, Incendies (2010), was Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language film. The opening of their mother’s will embarks her son and daughter on an unexpected journey and a discovery about their mother and themselves. Watch the trailer here.
Xavier Dolan is in his early twenties and has already made three feature films. The library has his debut film J’ai tué ma mère (2009) in a French only edition. Les Amours Imaginaires (2010) is an impressive, stylish film about a love triangle between two men and a woman. Dolan talks about the film here. His most recent film is Laurence Anyways (2012), a love story about a man’s transition to become a woman and the effect this has on his relationship with his girlfriend, family, and work.
There are several other noteworthy French Canadian films one can locate at the library:
- C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) and Café de Flore (2011) both directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
- La Moitié gauche du frigo (2000) Congorama (2007) and Monsieur Lazhar (2012) which are all directed by Philippe Falardeau
- Jean Claude Lauzon’s Leolo (1992) which is about a young boy with an active imagination growing up in a dysfunctional family
- Kim Nguyen’s War Witch (Rebelle) 2012 which is Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Academy Awards.
Please note that many of the French titled films in the collection are available on DVD with an English subtitle option. One can tell if the DVD has this option if the catalogued entry has “sous-titres en anglais” in the notes.