On November 1st 2003, La Presse critics Marc-André Lussier and Luc Perreault published a list of what they consider the 20 best French Canadian fiction feature films. One might deplore the absence of genius iconoclast filmmaker Robert Morin and the inclusion of a few downright rotten ‘80s flicks, but otherwise this is a solid selection.

À tout prendre (Claude Jutra) 92
[ Jutra was influenced by Godard and the Nouvelle Vague, no doubt, but his first film still feels as original as it gets. Deeply personal and wonderfully idiosyncratic, this aborted love story in Black and White is a stunning exercise in style full of wit and pathos, with memorable performances by Jutra and Johanne Harelle, more or less playing themselves. ]

Le Chat dans le sac (Gilles Groulx) 80
[ “Je suis un Canadien français donc je me cherche.” Another semi-autobiographical film with a strong Nouvelle Vague influence, it tells the story of an existential French Canadian who takes his English-speaking girlfriend to the country in a not so succesful attempt to find himself. The film is most notable for its naturalistic black & white cinematography and for its original score by John Coltrane. ]

Mon Oncle Antoine (Claude Jutra) 92
[ This was Quebec not so long ago, a nation of good-hearted but colonised Frenchies being exploited in mines or in the woods by English bosses and kept in the dark by the Church and Prime Minister Duplessis… But Claude Jutra’s film about an undertaker and his young nephew is not all bummer. There’s the joy of being a kid off school for the holidays, the warmth of family, the noisiness of the magasin général, the beauty of the Canadian winter (especially as shot by Michel Brault), the excitement of discovering girls… “Mon Oncle Antoine” is a much understated but endearing coming-of-age story most notable for its attention to detail, both in period recreation and the way people behave, and at times it works as pure poetry. ]

Le Retour de l’Immaculée-Conception (André Forcier)
[ Not available on video… ]

La Vraie nature de Bernadette (Gilles Carle) 65
[ Love the Donald Pilon, and Micheline Lanctôt is great as a saint/whore… But this is a pretty loose, messy picture, with lots of interesting ideas and strong moments that just don’t quite come together cohesively. ]

Kamouraska (Claude Jutra)
[ Comments coming soon. Or not. ]

Les Ordres (Michel Brault) 91
[ Very powerful almost-documentary about how then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre-Elliott Trudeau used the abduction of a government official by Quebec-liberation terrorists in October 1970 as an excuse to dismiss citizen rights and arrest hundreds of supposedly suspicious individuals (like journalists, intellectuals, counter-culture figures) without warrants. Jean Lapointe and Claude Gauthier lead an exceptional cast. ]

J.A. Martin, photographe (Jean Beaudin)
[ Comments coming soon. Or not. ]

Les Bons Débarras (Francis Mankiewicz) 90
[ review ]

Le Déclin de l’Empire Américain (Denys Arcand) 43
[ The film opens with a university teacher telling his students that History is all about numbers, i.e. South Africans can overcome yet African-Americans never will. “History is not a moral science.” Interesting. Then we have the Head of the History Department talking to a reporter about how “the expectation of receiving instant gratification in daily life constitutes the normative parameter of existence.” Bleh, not so interesting anymore. This is a pretentious filmmaker setting loose pretentious characters to make pretentious audiences nod in recognition, “Aren’t we sophisticated and erudite?” But the filmmaker/characters don’t want to seem pretentious, of course, so they start talking about and having sex. And there’s your “Déclin”, a wildly overrated film alternating a few actual insights with a lot of tedious intellectual grandstanding and genitals-gazing. ]

Un Zoo la Nuit (Jean-Claude Lauzon) 19
[ As one who considers “Léolo” (Lauzon’s second and last film) to be a masterpiece, I was shocked by the ineptitude of the late filmmaker’s debut, which I hadn’t seen until now. A trashy and vile crime flick doubling as a trite and ridiculous father-and-son melodrama, “Un Zoo la Nuit” displays endlessly bad writing and acting and much dated ‘80s style, not to mention a strange homophobic/homoerotic undercurrent. Hard to believe this is the work of the brilliant dreamer who’d go on to make “Léolo”. ]

À Corps Perdu (Léa Pool) 22
[ I’m not quite sure how you go from people being senselessly murdered by their own army in Nicaragua to a troubled bisexual love triangle in Montreal. I guess it’s common for one to dismiss distant horrors while obsessing on his own little emotional troubles, but all that really comes through here is empty artsy pretension and tedious melodrama. ]

Jésus de Montréal (Denys Arcand) 90
[ A modern retelling of the Passion of Christ, with Lothaire Bluteau as a local actor who plays Jesus in a live play being stage on Mont-Royal and ends up sharing his character’s fate. Both a wickedly funny satire aimed at the media and organised religion and a moving spiritual journey, this is writer-director Arcand at his most effective. ]

Léolo (Jean-Claude Lauzon) 93
[ review ]

Being at Home with Claude (Jean Beaudin)
[ Only saw the black & white & bloody red opening sequence, which is brilliant brilliant brilliant, then I realised the video I had borrowed was a dubbed version of the film, so I stopped it. I’ll be looking to find a copy in French promptly. ]

32 Short Films about Glenn Gould (François Girard)
[ I caught a dozen or so of them short films on TV a few years ago and what I saw I liked. I’ll be revisiting the whole piece soon. ]

Le Confessional (Robert Lepage) 39
[ review ]

Emporte Moi (Léa Pool) 49
[ Karine Vanasse plays Hannah, a teenager in 1960s Montreal torn between her Jewish would-be writer father and her overworked Catholic mother, escaping into girl-girl love, the night life and the movies. Like all of Lea Pool’s films, “Emporte Moi” is clumsy and overwritten, with lyrical pretentions and its heart on its sleeve. This bored me silly in Pool’s “À Corps Perdu”, but her “Lost & Delirious” deeply moved me – “Emporte Moi” falls somewhere in between. It’s uneven and naïve and self-indulgent, but there are some truly touching moments and evoking Anna Karina is always a good thing. ]

15 Février 1839 (Pierre Falardeau) 90
[ review ]

Les Invasions Barbares (Denys Arcand) 88
[ review ]