Pierre Falardeau and Michel Brault, the FLQ and the Patriotes: Hollywood vs. Modernism
White, Jerry, Quebec Studies
"The modernist does not commit himself. He considers, and is critical."
--Douwe Fokkema and Elrud Ibsch (3)
"Critics who vehemently attack modernism for being ahistorical, on grounds of its preoccupation with formal order, often open the floodgates of history through their very characterization of modernism."
--Astra ur Eysteinsson (14)
When I teach Quebec cinema, I often find myself joking that Pierre Falardeau is like the evil twin of Michel Brault. I am of course being facetious, but I am not being misleading. The connection between these two filmmakers is positively eerie, but it is also striking how radically different their takes on the same historical periods are. It would be easy to reduce these differences to a simple case of Brault being the older, wiser artist and Falardeau being the younger, more passionate and more naive upstart. It would also be easy to reduce this to a simple case of Brault being a compromised liberal, safely ensconced in the cocoon of the Quebec film community since his days at the 1950s Office National du Film (ONF), while Falardeau is a radical, independent, Third-Cinema style political filmmaker. But both of these reductions are quite unsatisfying.
Instead, I believe that the distinction between Brault and Falardeau is one of modernism vs. classicism, respectively. This is especially ironic not only because of Falardeau's roots in grassroots video (he spent time at Montreal's Videographe) and fiery pamphlet films (such as Le Temps des bouffons [1985/1993], a denunciation of the Montreal Beaver Club) but also because of the way in which Falardeau tries to present himself. That he tries to present himself as a dissident filmmaker is, of course, deeply deceptive; he is in fact much closer to Hollywood than to any tradition of international political filmmaking. This is surely visible in Octobre or 15 fevrier 1839, and a full discussion of that Hollywood influence will follow. But despite the Videographe connection or films like Le Temps de bouffons, this is not at all exceptional; other Falardeau films like Le Party or the Elvis Gratton series are very much influenced by Hollywood forms (melodrama and slapstick comedy, respectively).
Using the work of Fokkema and Ibsch cited above, I would argue that Brault is always critical and often conflicted in terms of politics and ideology; Falardeau, on the other hand, seems far more interested in creating an explicitly polemical cinema, doing so by privileging formal and narrative strategies that emphasize clarity and nonambiguity. This is visible in their films that treat the October Crisis and those that deal with the Patriotes' rebellion, (1) and this difference between a conflicted, critical viewpoint and an unambiguous, polemical one can be quite clearly seen not only in the films' content, but in their formal patterns as well. I want to closely examine, then, Brault's Les Ordres (1974) and Quand je serai parti ... vous vivrez encore (1999), and Falardeau's Octobre (1994) and 15 fevrier 1839 (2001). The similarity in the subject matter makes the differences in approach all the more clear. Brault unmistakably favors a self-conscious, sometimes demanding formal project, one that stresses the limits of knowledge and often holds the viewer at arm's length. Falardeau, on the other hand, is quite clearly drawing upon a Hollywood-derived, emotionally manipulative form of classical realism. And Brault, although a "soft nationalist" in many ways, is obviously conflicted about the political meaning of Quebec history; for Falardeau that same history is a clear-cut tale of francophone protagonists and anglophone oppressors, even when he appears to be attempting to complicate this schema. This modernism-classicism split is a far more fruitful way of understanding these filmmakers than the binary tendency I dismissed in the first paragraph; such considerations, indeed, seem left over from an earlier generation of Quebec film criticism. …