[Entrevue] « Quebec in the cinema »: mirror of our obsessions


For his new work, Quebec in the cinema. What our films say about us, the critic Michel Coulombe lent himself to a rather original exercise: to try to extract from Quebec filmography the common particularities that make up our identity. Quite a gamble for the author, who swears he took great pleasure in revealing our failings (but also our qualities) by analyzing and dissecting more than 600 feature films.

« Probing the Quebec imagination through our cinematography allows us to establish a kind of sociology of Quebec », summarizes in an interview Michel Coulombe, a great enthusiast of the history of the 7e art who directed the famous Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois from 1984 to 1999.

“In the 1950s, our films were fundamentally Duplessist,” he lists. “Our cinema of the 1960s was then carried by the Quiet Revolution. While the sexual revolution and the affirmation of identity invaded our big screens from the 1970s.

The decades go by in chapters divided into a hundred revealing themes in Quebec, ranging from harsh winters to swearing, passing through nationalism or religion, as many subjects on which many compatriots continue to tear themselves apart. “It’s a mirror held up to our obsessions, illustrates Mr. Coulombe. My goal is to encompass all eras of modern cinema from the early 1940s to 2022, with the ultimate niagara, by Guillaume Lambert, which has just been released in theaters. »

By (re)watching film after film, the author, who did not want to trust his memories, endeavored to accomplish an impressive work of census in order to reveal the changes and upheavals of a society, in spite of almost immovable questions such as the complicated relationship that Quebecers still have with money, forever immortalized in Seraph. A man and his sin (2002), by Charles Biname.

Another section also focuses on the evolution of mores, in particular on the question of rape. “I was speechless when I saw the films again Valerie (1969) or I have my trip! (1973), by Denis Héroux. It’s very destabilizing to see how these productions approached rape with so much lightness. »

The critic states that in terms of social evolution, the place of the First Nations of Quebec has made a giant leap. “We must not forget that at one time, filmmakers filmed people dressed as Indians to treat them as savages. Since the 2000s, a real « wind of change » has been blowing through the Quebec industry with realistic and sensitive proposals, a thousand miles from folklore and prejudice. We just have to think about Kuessipan (2019), by Myriam Verreault, Bootlegger (2021), by Caroline Monnet, and Mesnak (2011), by Yves Sioui Durand.

Our cinema can also be prophetic, as evidenced by the page of the book devoted to conspirators. « In a sequence of Jesus of Montrealby Denys Arcand, which nevertheless goes back more than thirty years, we find exactly the tone and the discourse of today’s conspiracy theorists,” explains the author.

Pacifist and fatalist, the people of Quebec?

The book, stuffed with photographs, has a playful, almost educational side. It includes without distinction popular productions, award-winning works and auteur films. So the comedy From father to cop (2009), by Émile Gaudreault, rubs shoulders with the austere The novena (2005), by Bernard Émond, or the acclaimed Sarah prefers running (2013), by Chloe Robichaud.

« The idea is not to pass judgment on feature films, » he says. What is important is to show that our film corpus betrays us, because it is when we add up the diversity of films that trends emerge. »

Michel Coulombe also likes to put the magnifying glass on what distinguishes us from other nations. Thus, the theme of war is not approached in the same way here, in Quebec. “If we compare our relationship to war and violence with our American neighbours, we see that it is very different. With us, the deserter is a rather heroic figure, whereas in the United States, he is not at all. »

“We are a rather pacifist people”, affirms the author, who recalls that the sentence “War, war, is not a reason to hurt ourselves” (The tuque war1984, by André Melançon) has become one of the most famous replicas of our cinema.

Quebeckers do not particularly value themselves either, he continues. A character trait bordering on fatalism, of which the author has made a fascinating inventory through the term « small » used in all sauces: « little hair » here, « little guy » there and especially the famous formula « we were born for a little bread ».

Michel Coulombe recounts having made several discoveries about the collective psyche, such as with the declaration « It’s going to be fine » popularized over the past two years by Prime Minister François Legault during the COVID-19 pandemic. “But this all-purpose expression has been present in the filmography for more than 60 years! he concludes.

Quebec in the cinema. What our films say about us

Michel Coulombe, Saint-Jean editor, 364 pages

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