Academic journal article CineAction

Toward the Quebec Auteur: From Perrault to Arcand

Academic journal article CineAction

Toward the Quebec Auteur: From Perrault to Arcand

Article excerpt

Quebec cinema burst forth with a new spirit in the early 1960s. It was following the lead of the new interventionist Liberal government of Quebec that wanted Quebeckers to become "maitres chez nous." Quebec filmmakers decided to become masters in their own house by ending the decade-long drought in feature film production. A number of young film directors came to be recognized in the 1960s. It is impossible to discuss all their work and its significance, but what is possible, is an informed discussion of one or two key films made by each director, the importance of these films to Quebec cultural life and the interconnections among the various directorial visions and how their visions have come to represent a unique society.

The careers of these half-dozen directors are only a sampling of the directorial talent that Quebec inaugurated in the 1960s and 1970s. There are others, a number of whom have significant reputations. Having to provide a narrow sample recognizes the incredible artistic bounty that the Quebec film industry developed after 1960. Many of these directors became auteurs--filmmakers who wrote, produced, directed and sometimes acted in their own films. The auteur spirit springs from an individual artist's roots in a society and its cultures. It acknowledges artistic control of a cinematic product the way an author might control a book. Auteur films are films with a special vision but that vision is more than just an individual expression. Auteur directors express varied aspects of a national identity and their works contribute significantly to a nationality's claim to having a genuine national cinema. Pierre Perrault (1927-99) was the documentarist that brought the meaning of the past into Quebec's current identity; Michel Brault (1928-) is the cinemtographer and director who created the visual moods that came to distinguish recent Quebec cinema; Jean-Pierre Lefebvre (1941-) is the film critic and poet turned revolutionary filmmaker; Gilles Carle (1929-) is the cultural animateur, whose humor, irony and social caricature created a cinematic sociology of popular sensibilities; Claude Jutra (1930-1987) was the shy genius who gave Canada the enduring classic Mon Oncle Antoine; while Denys Arcand (1941-) concluded the sixties' generation's best work with two award-winning and internationally-lauded films, Le Declin de l'empire american (1986) and Jesus de Montreal (1989). Together these directors created a major body of work that was the second wave of Quebec's feature film industry.'

In 1960 francophone Montreal had 64 cinemas, of which 54 showed only English language films. (2) That year there were 558 feature films screened in Canada, none of which were Canadian. (3) Canada's population at the time was 18 million, of which 5 million lived in Quebec. Anyone aspiring to create Quebec feature films had to face the daunting statistics of being part of a minority culture in a national entity that was not making any feature films and had not done so for some time. Not surprising, it was the young who took on the challenge. The Liberal government had launched a "Quiet Revolution" based on a call for an anti-conservative ideological and social change. For example, in 1961 a law was passed that allowed children under 10 to attend matinees, the first time since 1927. In ones and twos French-language features began to appear, both from the National Film Board (Office Nationale du Film-ONF) and from independent producers. By the end of the decade, almost 50 feature films in French had been released , more than double the number made during the first wave (1944-53). (4) There was a new spirit of self-affirmation that embraced young filmmakers, most of whom were then still in their late twenties and early thirties when their first major work appeared. Quebec film historians have called the cinema of the sixties, "le cinema de Ia revolution Tranquille.,, (5) It was a period when cultural creativity joined hands with social concerns in a veritable epiphany of renewal generated by the "cinema d,auteur. …

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