Thursday, December 15, 2011

La Ronde and some recent Québécois films

Congratulations to Igor Drljača and Sophie Goyette for their respective short-films The Fuse: Or How I Burned Simon Bolivar and La Ronde for making it onto Canada’s Top Ten short film selection for 2011. They will be screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of Programme B on Sunday, January 8 at 8:30PM, which I highly recommend going to.
I am also still writing a third review of a few other Canadian short-films: Simon Ennis' Up in Cottage Country, Rafal Sokolowski's Three Mothers and Blake Williams' Coorow-Latham Road. - D. D.

"More than a nouvelle vague, their cinema is perhaps foremost, and more importantly, a new cry. It is our job to know how to listen."  - Helen Faradji
In her article Les cinéastes cinéphiles from the dossier on the Renouveau du cinéma Québécois in 24 images (N.152), Helen Faradji discuses Gilles Deleuze's concept of maniérisme to describe a group of feature-filmmakers that are revitalizing the Québécois cinematographic landscape. The filmmakers highlighted are Denis Côté, Maxime Giroux, Rafaël Ouellet, Myriam Verreault, Henry Bernadet, Xavier Dolan, and Stéphane Lafleur. Though I would also include Guy Édoin, Philippe Falardeau and, especially, Jean-Marc Vallée.
Faradji uses the term maniérisme to speak about a third state of the image, “when the root of the image is always still an image.” The term maniérisme, which is derived from the Italian expression bella maniera, is appropriate to label these filmmakers. Like Baroque painters, they reject the rule that art should be an imitation of nature. Deleuze further expands on this style in his book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque proposing that mannerism is about altering, twisting and folding visions of reality. This is something that these filmmakers also do as they meticulously set their scenes and place their camera - twisting and distorting reality for it to conform to their vision. The distinct character of this group of contemporary Québécois filmmakers can be traced to three attributes: mannerism as an operative function to capture reality while at the same time changing it, a keen awareness of contemporary cinema - what is good, and what they like - and unique funding opportunities (SODEC, NFB etc).
Though the films of these diverse filmmakers are different, Faradji highlights reoccurring commonalities:
“No sunny roads or alleyways with bystanders, but instead new locations (countrysides, suburbs, dumps, etc.) usually in dead mid-season. No idle chatter, stories that lead the viewer by the hand or didactic montages, but instead there is silences, contemplation, and narrative “holes” that force the viewer to focus his attention on the qui-vive […] While it first appeared a priori difficult to account for different approaches and tone of these filmmakers, their reunion under the banner of maniérisme, as well as their different use of formal elements, seems like the cement of their shared identity.”
I propose to put forward two up-and-coming Montreal short-film directors to Faradji’s cinéastes cinéphiles banner and they are Anne Émond and Sophie Goyette.
Émond’s short film Sophie Lavoie is exceptionally well-done in its minute social observations through indirect means as in a single-long take it explores the thoughts and feelings of a young woman (Catherine De Léan) as she is getting an STD test. It is about "modern love" as Émond describes it. While Émond also moved to full-length features as her Nuit #1 premiered in Canada First at TIFF 2011 and is being released in Montreal on December 16th. Nuit #1 is about a young woman who picks up a guy at a rave and then how she deals with the nights after effects. While there is also Goyette whose La Ronde I will be reviewing below. But to confirm these two and their generations passion for filmmaking here is a quote from an interview between Goyette and Sonia Sarfati from La Presse Suisse, “I adore writing, and directing is another form of writing. So I can’t really see myself giving my scripts to anybody else, just like I can’t see myself directing something somebody else wrote.” Émond and Goyette truly captures this new Québécois mannerism. They have a story to tell and a desire to share it through cinema.
Sophie Goyette’s fourth short-film, and longest to date at twenty-three minutes, La Ronde is a rural Québec drama set in Laval about these identical twins Ariane and Alex Valencourt whose father Michael, who was suffering from schizophrenia, recently attempted suicide. They now have to decide if they want to ‘pull the plug’ on their father who is being kept alive by life-support systems. The twenty-three-year-old Ariane (played brilliantly by Éliane Préfontaine) has a plane ticket and she is ready to leave, while Alex does not really wants to go, even though he only works at a late night diner. Similarly to Sean Durkin's Martha Macy May Marlene and Steve McQueen’s Shame, the film explores the breakup of a family and how it affects both siblings differently through how they deal with the solemnity of the grieving process.
La Ronde begins with an amazing circular shot of Ariane in her family home while she plays the piano. This sequence is similar to the opening of Catherine Martin's Trois temps après la mort d'Anna where a gifted violinist Anna performs a complex Beethoven concerto while her adoring mother Françoise looks on. You can tell that Ariane’ home has not been inhabited for a while, or at least has not taken care of, since it is messy and full of empty beer cans. The kitchen sink is full of dishes and for dinner Ariane makes a microwaveable dinners. There is a loneliness to the scene of her prodding the layer of plastic over the tray. Then Ariane walks through her father’s room where she listens to his voice on the answering machine and spells his deodorant. Ariane's grief is presented with an understated sensitivity. And then she is off into the night on her electric scooter.
Ariane used to be the local high school football coach and she catches on the school’s playing field a few of the boys drunk. The beer cans are littered around and the boys are stumbling and then one of them barfs. Ariane brings the sick boy back to his parent’s house. And in the conversation with the kid’s father, who thought that his son was staying at a friend’s place, the viewer learns about Ariane’s father and the reason for his hospitalization – a suicide attempt. This father and Michael were co-workers in a nearby industrial park, which is a major contributor to Laval’s economy.
Ariane then drives off to the top of a cliff, which looks down upon an industrial park. Where she stands a bit too close to the edge in is a close-up of her feet kicking little rocks off. She then decides to back away and drive off. Except that her scooter dies - it no longer works. All of this loss and stress has been building up in her and this is the breaking point. She has lost her parents and does not know what to do or where to go. In a vulnerable cry for help and protest Ariane yells out "câlisse". 

And then, what does Ariane do? She kicks her helmet off the cliff à la Football kickoff and keeps moving onward into the night and forward in her journey.
Walking on the side of an off-beat road, Ariane gets picked up in a car by a mysterious man (is he a criminal on the run?). After driving for a while they run into a dead deer lying on the middle of the road. The man wants to drive on top of the deer but Ariane decides to get out of the car to pull it out of the way. This appreciation of life, of all different species, reflects the films Christianity, the dominant Québécois religion. This was hinted at earlier while they were driving and passed a a brightly lit cross.

While preventing this deer from being run over Ariane sees and hears something from off in the forest, which she decides to follow. In one of the most spellbinding sequences in the film Ariane follows this apparition. In a point-of-view shot through a dark grassy field with a path illuminated by a flashlight the soundtrack also shifts to the conversation between the brother Alex and a doctor discussing cutting off Michael's life support. When Ariane finally gets to what she has seen, it turns out to be a cow. The films mysticism and contrasts gives the impression that it is the father re-incarnated in the out-of-place farm animal. The texture of the scene feels very sci-fi supernatural or more concisely like Apichatpong’s oneiric Tropical Malady. As well this focus on animals seems like general trend in Québécois cinema as an owl played a large role in Halima Ouardiri’s Mokhtar as well Denis Côté’s new film Bestiaire (which is premiering at Sundance) is a documentary consisting solely of animals filmed in a Montreal zoo.

There is a beautiful exposition shot of a brick wall with statues of white doves flying to the light, and then Ariane makes her way to the family’s tombstone. She spends the night there and in the morning she scratches out with chalk Alex and her name. She then calls her brother and says, "Je suis ici avec tois," “I am here with you”. To end La Ronde, Ariane is able reconcile her demons and find solace - her views making a full circle.

David Davidson

Sophie Goyette’s other short films include En parallèle (2008), À l’État sauvage (2009) and Manèges (2009). As well she is currently completing a new short, Le futur proche, and writing her first full-length feature film. La Ronde had it’s world premiere at the Big World for Short Films program at the Locarno Film Festival 2011 and also played in TIFF Short Cuts Canada and in the Focus Section of Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema.

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