July 27, 2007

Michel Brault (2007)

(by Girish.)

Just a quick note to point out that one of Canadian film history's greatest figures, the director/cinematographer Michel Brault, is being honored with a retrospective at TIFF this year. (For more on Brault, here's a post I did on Quebecois cinema a few months ago.)

Over the years I've seen most of the films in this program, so I thought I'd make some recommendations.

There are at least three unmissables:

-- Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin, 1961), the seminal French "Direct Cinema" film on which Brault served as cinematographer, bringing innovations in camera equipment and technique learned from his years at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

-- Pour la Suite du Monde (Pierre Perrault & Michel Brault, 1963), a documentary about age-old whale-hunting practices in rural Quebec. Probably the single most famous Canadian documentary, and the first Canadian film to compete at Cannes.

-- Les Bons Debarras (Francis Mankiewicz, 1980), a brilliant rural-Gothic mother-daughter drama, is often cited in polls of the best Canadian films ever made. It was shot by Brault and is the "Canadian Open Vault" film at TIFF this year.

In addition, let me recommend Brault's excellent Les Ordres (1974, winner of Best Director at Cannes) and Entre la Mer et L'eau Douce (1967, his first feature, with Genevieve Bujold).

Honestly, after TIFF '07 is over and done, I suspect many of the above films will be among the strongest that end up playing there. Which is why I wanted to make sure I put in a little word for them.

Personally, I'll be looking forward to seeing his shorts, which I've never been able to catch so far.


davis said...

Very nice. I caught his short "The Snowshoers" at the PFA last year, which is lots of fun. He also had some good anecdotes about working with Rouch on Chronicle of a Summer (one of my faves), so if he's appearing at any of the TIFF screenings -- which I'm sure he is -- they'll be extra entertaining.

girish said...

Rob, I've only seen clips from The Snowshoers (Les Raquetters, playing in this retro), in an informative Canadian doc called Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment by Peter Wintonick (who also made the Noam Chomsky Manufacturing Consent doc). A whole slew of verite history figures (like Brault, Rouch, Leacock, Kopple etc) pop up as enlightening talking heads.

I remembered reading your post on Rouch's Chronicle of a Summer at Errata a long time ago (before I even met you!).

I should also point out that none of these films exists on DVD in the US, save Paper Wedding (with Bujold), which is netflixable.

Darren said...

Cool post, Girish. I hadn't made the connection with your earlier Quebecois cinema notes when Brault was named the subject of this year's retrospective. Frankly, except for Peter Mettler's Gambling, Gods, and LSD, which Rob and I saw last year, I've never paid too much attention to the Canadian programs.

The problem this year is that the TIFF lineup is already so strong, I'm not sure how many of the Brault films I'll be able to catch. Seriously, they could stop announcing titles right now, and we'd still easily see 30-40 good films.

Less than six weeks!

davis said...

I tend to gloss over the Canadian program too, although when I look back over recent years, I guess the Arthur Lipsett stuff, Manufactured Landscapes, Away From Her, History of Violence, and Brand Upon the Brain! are all Canadian, too, but somehow they seem more worldly.

I'd like to see that Mettler doc again one day. I was kind of tired, but it has some great stuff.

Girish, as a veteran of the fest, how often have you taken advantage of the retrospectives they occasionally do. It's always a tough call.

girish said...

"Seriously, they could stop announcing titles right now, and we'd still easily see 30-40 good films."

Darren, I agree 100%.
I end up seeing about 30 or so films at TIFF each year, and I'm already shuddering at the agonizing overabundance of temptations lying in wait when the filmlist and schedule are announced in their entirety. I'll easily take what they've announced so far and no more (except perhaps a surprise, brand-new Claire Denis film!).

"how often have you taken advantage of the retrospectives they occasionally do. It's always a tough call."

Rob, yes it certainly is.
Well, it depends on the year. In the early days, the retro was a bit of a priority for me. My first year there ('99), I saw seven films by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (then quite unknown in North America--it was this series that 'broke' him here) and it was the highlight of the fest for me. In '03, I caught Nuri Bilge Ceylan's four films as part of a Turkish retro. The year before, I saw everything they programmed by Ulrich Seidl. But lately (since '04), they've sadly replaced (instead of supplementing) the international director spotlight with the Canadian retro.

My ideal festival would show a mix of old and new stuff. Probably because I don't live in a large metropolis, I yearn to see a wide variety of quality non-current world cinema on the big screen but all too often have to settle for DVD.

girish said...

Oh, also: TIFF-geek that I am, a few years ago, I scoured several Toronto used-book shops with the help of my Toronto cinephile pal Andrew and picked up old TIFF programme books dating back to the 80s. They make for fun reading.

The director spotlight that they've discontinued recently is especially revealing: past years featured Almodovar, Loach, Kieslowski, Taiwanese cinema, the Kaurismaki brothers, etc, all not-very-well-known here at the time they were 'discovered' in Toronto (at least for the North American audience).

Dan Sallitt said...

I second the recommendation for Les Bons Debarras - it's quite good, and I haven't noticed a US screening since its 1980 run.

I'm not a huge Brault fan. Michael Kerpan adores him, and has written in detail about several of his films at rozmon.blogspot.com.

msic said...

I second Girish's emotion re: the discontinuance of Director's Spotlight (which was pretty much on the way out by the time I started TIFFing). It's hard not to see this (along with the increased disposability of Dialogues with Pictures) as an overall symptom of TIFF's increased confidence, desire for glitz, sucking up to Hollywood power, etc.

How great would it be, for instance, if there was a cluster of recent Romanian films, like the Turkey X3 series from '03? A number of key films, such as "The Paper Will Be Blue," "Stuff and Dough," "Occident," and "Niki and Flo," didn't play TIFF, and had few North American festival stops.

Also, maybe everyone's already noticed this, but the online catalog description for "The Substitute" lets slip that Paprika Steen's second directorial effort, "With Your Permission," will be in the festival. Should be worth a look.

Nicola said...

Chronique d'un été is 'incontournable' as they say.

Doug said...

The problem is that most of the Brault films are already readily available in the excellent DVD box set the NFB put out last year...I would've rather seen a retrospective of work that was hard to see.

Nicola said...

Like who, for instance, Doug? Here in Italia, it's all Cronenberg and Egoyan. I want to see the shorts by Claude Jutras.

Doug said...

Arthur Lipsett, for starters!

girish said...

Doug, it's too bad the DVDs are not widely available for rental in the US. (They're not at Netflix or Greencine, for instance.) So they're still pretty inaccessible to most people unless they're willing to purchase them.

But I agree with you: I'd certainly have preferred Lipsett since I've seen none of his films!

Nicola said...

I hope they are showing prints of all these. I was disheartened when most of the Perraults were shown on beta. I've seen all of Lipsett-unquestionably a genius.

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