June 03, 2007

Ten Years, Ten-Lists #3 (Travis Mackenzie Hoover)

A collection of genuine gems found among the detritus of my country's cinema. Good luck locating copies of most of these, but if you have the wherewithal, here's a handy guide to Canada's best.-Travis Mackenzie Hoover

10. La Vraie nature de Bernadette (The True Nature of Bernadette) (1972, Gilles Carle)
Gilles Carle's satirical tragedy involves a free-thinking woman named Bernadette (the implacable Micheline Lanctôt) who flees the city to set up shop in a rural village; all manner of misunderstandings ensue, including the idea of her as a miracle-curing Madonna. Unpretentious yet acid, La Vraie nature de Bernadette goes down easy without spoon-feeding you to get there.

9. Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002, Peter Mettler)
Training his camera on all things transcendent (from revival meetings to demolition sites to the lights on top of the Luxor pyramid), Peter Mettler shows the profound mystery involved on both the spiritual and the material planes, as well as the plain weirdness involved in being human.

8. Montreal Main (1974, Frank Vitale)
This semi-autobiographical work of photographer Frank Vitale places Vitale in an undefined relationship with a 12-year-old boy--and, subsequently, the censure of his circle (to say nothing of the boy's parents). Mournful but somehow not hopeless, the film's melancholy will stay with you for days.

7. A Married Couple (1969, Allan King)
Before reality-TV followed people around with cameras 24/7, there was Allan King's cinema-vérité masterpiece about Billy and Antoinette Edwards. A wrenching film about two people who talk past each other, with a rewarding moment of clarity close to the end.

6. Goin' Down the Road (1970, Donald Shebib)
A man went looking for Canada, and couldn't find it anywhere; the Anglo-hoser Citizen Kane: a movie that's satisfying no matter how many times you watch it.

5. Les Dernières fiançailles (1973, Jean Pierre Lefebvre)
A brilliantly structural take on the last two days in the disappointing lives of an elderly couple, this is the only film I've been able to track down by the great Jean Pierre Lefebvre, but it seems like it was the one to catch. The camera tracks beautifully as the details come spilling out.

4. Pour la suite du monde (1963, Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière, Pierre Perrault)
Another one of the great documentaries: three filmmakers revive the practice of whale fishing in rural Ile-aux-Courdes and in the process make a statement on the vanishing traditions of Quebec.

3. Dead Ringers (1988, David Cronenberg)
And God said, "Let there be Cronenberg." And when He saw what He had done, He disappeared in a puff of smoke as the master went about his bodily business in the most profoundly disturbing manner possible. This is Cronenberg's crowning achievement, about two Jeremy Irons who discover that their attempts at bodily control will come to naught.

2. Yes Sir! Madame... (1994, Robert Morin)
Technically this is a video, but whatever it is, it's a masterpiece. Robert Morin's bilingual exploration of what it means to live on the knife-edge of two languages and two cultures while living on the margins of society. Blunt, ballsy, and conceptually astounding, this years-in-the-making mini-epic will make your jaw drop.

1. Les Bons débarras (Good Riddance) (1980, Francis Mankiewicz)
There has never been a more appalling girl than Michelle, the 13-year-old who demands her mother's undivided attention in the most devious ways. She's the apocalyptic heroine of Francis Mankiewicz's quietly devastating classic: the most powerful film ever produced in Canada, and on the short list of best movies of the '80s. The climax must be seen to be believed.

See also:


Alex Jackson said...


Couldn't find any of those via Netflix except Dead Ringers.

One of these days, I'll switch to a different internet rental service.

jer fairall said...

Zip.ca has Gambling, Gods & LSD, Goin' Down The Road, Pour la suite du monde (only in French) and Dead Ringers. I've added the first two to my rental list along with a request for an alert when Les Bons débarras (Good Riddance) becomes available (it's not, yet, but they seem confident that it one day will be). I'll check the library for the others. Montreal Main sounds especially intriguing.

I gotta wonder, what does Travis think of Leolo and Last Night?

Anonymous said...

Wow, these are impossible to find.

Is there an online rental service more thorough than Netflix?

Vikram said...

Gonna have to look these up especially Goin' Down The Road

tmhoover said...

Yeah, "hard to find" and "Canadian film past 1985" are pretty much interchangable concepts. Good to hear that Les bons debarras is about to join the DVD club; for the rest, I'm lucky to have seen them at all.

As for jer's query: I haven't seen Leolo since it opened in the early 90's, and I think I was a callow youth who misread it- I somehow found its grotesqueries a little much and a little unbelievable. But I may have been refracting it through a sheltered middle-class lens: I've since met someone who claims the film is practically a documentary of his life, so a second viewing might be in order.

As for Last Night, I sort of like it with reservations: though it's a smartly-written movie with a lot of things to recommend it, I sort of resent it for reverting to the Canadian default position of accepting a no-win situation (ie, the end of the world and nothing to be done). I recommend it, but still quarrel with it a bit.

As a side issue, a Canadian film that just missed the list AND is available on DVD is Wedding in White by William Fruet. Directed by the writer of Goin' Down the Road, it features Carol Kane being raped by one of the cast of that film only to find that her father... well, I won't tell you what her father does, but it's jaw-droppingly horrible and pretty hard to forget. Highly recommended.

Jefferson said...

No Love and Human Remains? Jesus of Montreal? I liked both of those, but Mia Kirshner might have had a lot to do with the former.

Joseph M said...

Great list. Always good to see some Cronenberg love.

Kurt Halfyard said...

No Mon Oncle Antoine? that'd have to be high up there. Also The Rowdy Man would be on my list.

in the genre world there are certainly some real gems: Cube, Ginger Snaps, eXistenZ, La Peau Blanche, Death Dream, Black Christmas, Blood & Donuts, Roadkill, Shivers, The Brood and other early Cronenberg.

Anonymous said...

well there's always City in the wee hours or SUN-TV anytime -- at my house we attribute it to that "wandering dutchman" truck full of obscure films that no-one (including imdb, most of the time) has ever heard of... in the case of SUN, it's always that CANUCK truck though. :)

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