Toward Defining a Postcolonial Quebec Cinema: The Films of Claude Jutra

By Green, Mary Jean | Quebec Studies, Spring-Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Toward Defining a Postcolonial Quebec Cinema: The Films of Claude Jutra


Green, Mary Jean, Quebec Studies


To use the term postcolonial as a modifier for Quebec is to complicate an already endlessly complicated terminological debate. Yet, as I will argue, to read certain Quebec texts through the lens of postcolonial theory is to illuminate them from a different angle, to understand the qualities they share with other cultural production of a similar time and circumstance. The films of Claude Jutra are good candidates for such a reading because Jutra himself was conscious of his connection with the postcolonial world, particularly the newly-decolonizing nations of Africa in the 1960s.

Before undertaking a postcolonial reading of Jutra's films, however, a few definitions are in order. The term postcolonial is a notoriously slippery one, a term that raises questions--and hackles--wherever it crops up. Even the seemingly innocent "post" in postcolonial is an object of debate, whether it is "a space-clearing gesture" (63), as Kwame Anthony Appiah would theorize, or a chronological marker, perhaps conflating (too) many generations of independence movements. There are also more evidently ideological disputes: Ella Shohat, for example accuses those who would use postcolonial of draining the sense of political agency contained in older terms like "Third World." There is also a disturbing lack of clarity about the boundaries of the postcolonial field, which, as Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks observes, "remains undefinable and amorphous in its outlines" (4). Does postcolonial theory, for example, include the work of the founding figures of decolonization theory--Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, and Albert Memmi, who are generally included on postcolonial syllabi? Or does it begin, as Leela Gandhi would prefer, with the pathbreaking publication of Edward Said's Orientalism in 1978, which, according to Gandhi, is "commonly regarded as the principal catalyst and reference point for postcolonial theory" (25)?

Even when we agree to bracket these discussions, we must still ask whether, in any of its multiple meanings, the word postcolonial may properly be applied to Quebec. In what sense can Quebec be Said to have been colonized? In the literal sense, Quebec was once a colony of France and was subsequently conquered by Britain, becoming part of the British colonial empire. As a part of Canada, Quebec would logically fall into the category of "settler colonies," like Australia, New Zealand, and even the United States, whose inclusion in postcolonial theory by such texts as Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin's The Empire Strikes Back has been roundly criticized by theorists more oriented toward the "Third World." In their critical readings, colonization is to be equated with oppression: thus, in the early French settlement of Quebec, the true "colonized" would be the displaced Native peoples, which also seems to be the view of Canadian critic Linda Hutcheon in her important discussion of the issue in "Circling the Downspout of Empire." But if colonization is oppression, the British victory on the Plains of Abraham turned French Canadians into a "colonized" people, oppressed by foreign rule, their territory invaded by foreign settlers. Later, of course, this "colonizing" presence would expand to include the entire anglophone population of North America, including the United States (more usually characterized, in most postcolonial writings, by the adjective "neo-imperialist").

It was in this sense that Albert Memmi embraced the Quebec experience as falling within the terms of his famous Portrait du colonise. In a 1967 discussion with business school students, later reprinted in his book L'homme domine under the title "Les Canadiens Francais sont-ils des colonises?," Memmi agrees with the students that francophone Quebecois, despite their relative prosperity, are domines, a term he sees as preferable to colonises because, as he explains in a note, "Le mot colonise a ete mis ... toutes les sauces, et chaque situation est specifique ... "(95). …

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