Rafaël Ouellet

2007
Le cèdre penché 74
[ A looser “Once” with a touch of “Morvern Callar”, this impressionistic, semi-improvised, $5000 story of two sisters rekindling about the death of their country singer mother is elevated by the beauty of Viviane Audet, the very present and diverse music and a lot of interesting visual ideas. A small gem of a movie. ]

2008
Derrière moi 66
[ When a naive teenager (Charlotte Legault, touching) living in a remote village befriends a brazen Montreal woman (Carina Caputo, troubling), the attraction of forbidden pleasures soon become harmful… With more production values at his disposal than for his debut, Rafaël Ouellet confirms his great talent for visual composition, for depicting a time and a place, and for pairing actresses both mismatched and complementary. The plot might be a bit too loose, even though the themes (the end of innocence, the identity crisis of young girls, the breach of trust) are striking and thought-provoking. ]

2009
new denmark 87
[ I’ve written before about my fascination for the new wave of Quebec filmmakers that includes the likes of Denis Côté, Yves Christian Fournier, Stéphane Lafleur, Maxime Giroux and yes, Rafaël Ouellet. Now, Fournier made the biggest impact on me of them all with his brilliant “Tout est parfait”, but I also have a particular affection for Ouellet, who first came onto the scene with the delightful “Le Cèdre penché”, which he quickly followed with the darker “Derrière Moi” and this here “New Denmark”, easily his most achieved film to date. It had me at hello, literally, right from the opening shot, a striking view of overcast skies looming over a forest that slowly reveals a search party heading into the woods. We then meet our typically Ouelletesque protagonist, a beautiful, sad, quiet girl (Carla Turcotte) who’s going around town putting up posters of her missing sister… The whole film is about Carla’s desperate search for her sister or, at least, closure. With sparse dialogue, lyrical shot composition, well directed non-professional actors, evocative use of sound (and of an intriguingly in situ sound recordist) and outstanding music by Man an Ocean, Rafaël Ouellet has created a true work of art. 4 or 5 times, you fear that a generic plot is gonna kick in, but it never does. This remains a pure dose of great visuals and sound, anchored by just enough emotional heft and thematic depth. An absolute must-see. ]

2012
Camion 91
[ In many ways, this feels like what Quentin Tarantino calls a “hang-out movie,” i.e. a film that displays some clear storytelling, but that isn’t plot-driven – it’s all about spending time with some wonderful characters, namely Julien Poulin’s aging trucker Germain Racine and his two sons, janitor Samuel (Patrice Dubois) and wannabe-songwriter Alain (Stéphane Breton). The structure interestingly has us hanging out with each of them separately first, then we take a ride with the two brothers, before they get to their old man’s house in Dégelis and we finally see the three of them together. And then… Well, not to spoil anything, but let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised to find that the expected big emotional breakthrough or catharsis never came along. Things happen during the film and the characters do evolve, but in a very subtle, subdued, true-to-life way. This might also have something to do with the fact that men, in Quebec anyway, often have trouble expressing what they feel, or else it comes out all wrong… In that way, “Camion” is a companion piece of sort to Robin Aubert’s astonishing “À l’origine d’un cri,” while also sharing some elements with Sébastien Pilote’s “Le Vendeur.” But most of all, this is a Rafaël Ouellet movie through and through, even though he’s not dealing with young women like in his three previous features. And while there’s pretty much more dialogue here than in the other films (combined!), Ouellet, who also edited “Camion”, still takes the time to allow for some of his signature lyrical, contemplative moments where the visuals -and music, often- take over. Speaking of which, cinematographer Geneviève Perron must be praised for her masterful, expressive work – this is a superb looking film, which makes great use of interiors draped in darkness and exteriors bathed in natural light, finding grace notes all along the way. I also loved the score by Viviane Audet and Robin-Joël Cool, as well as the songs by Richmond Fontaine, Will Driving West and others, who all share a certain conception of Americana/country/folk music which fits perfectly with the universe of “Camion,” which could more or less be described as a stalled road movie – the titular truck spending most of the running length parked and rusting away. Which describes the three proganists rather aptly, too. Okay, this sounds super depressing, but the three leads are too engaging and enjoyable for the film to ever become a total bummer. Breton in particular is downright hilarious. It’s a real treat that we get to hang out with these guys, and I’m looking forward to doing so again soon.  ]

2013
finissant(e)s 63
[ Part documentary, part fiction, part experimentation, this fifth feature from the Québécois filmmaker follows a small group of Dégelis teenagers during the summer between the end of high school and the beginning of the rest of their lives. It’s sometimes amusing, sometimes touching in the way it reminds us of what it was like to go through that. The best thing about it is probably the use of music by Man an Ocean, which gives the whole thing a more lyrical, haunting feel. ]

2014
Gurov & Anna 46
[ Rafaël Ouellet might be my favorite working Quebec filmmaker, but I can not for the life of me figure out why, when he decided to direct someone else’s screenplay after writing his 5 first features, he picked Celeste Parr’s oh so lame debut script. Here’s the boring story of a complete loser, not elevated in the least by the insistent, pseudo-intellectual references to Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog”. The acting by leads Andreas Apergis and Sophie Desmarais is OK, but even the best actors in the world couldn’t make sense of the way the affair between their characters, a married college professor and one of his students, develops. Did I mention that the guy is a complete loser? And his young mistress is not much more likable. “Gurov & Anna” has some redeeming qualities, notably the gorgeous cinematography by Geneviève Perron and the evocative score by Viviane Audet, Robin-Joël Cool and Erik West-Millette. But this is still by far my least favorite Rafaël Ouellet film. ]