Bursting taboo's bubble

Cultural fallout from Quiet Revolution

Published: Jun 16 2015, 01:01:am

Tuesday, May 19, 1970.
VALÉRIE. Written by John Dunning, Louis Gauthier, André Link and Richard Sadler. Music by Joe Gracy and Michel Paje. Directed by Denis Héroux. Running time: 97 minutes. Restrictred entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: frequent nudity and suggestive scenes.
"I'VE BROKEN A TABOO — undressing a woman in front of a camera. Not a Swedish or Parisian girl, but a Québec girl."
    The speaker is Denis Héroux, 29, director of Valérie, the latest of the new made-in-Canada movies to reach Vancouver. His Québec girl is Danielle Ouimet, a 22-year-old former provincial beauty queen and Montréal broadcasting personality.
    Together, they have turned out a passable bit of screen hokum, praiseworthy more as a demonstration of potential than for its own values. The film, shot in black and white with an $85,000 budget, is designed to show off Héroux's grasp of cinema form and structure.
    Valérie is the well-worn story of a bad girl redeemed by true love. The film opens with a jaunty Mlle Ouimet making her escape from the discipline of a convent school on the back of a big city motorcycle gangster's chopper.
    Before the final fadeout — a flag-festooned, mawkishly 
tongue-in-cheek scene in Mount Royal Park overlooking the skyscrapers of downtown Montréal — the rebellious Valérie samples life as a hippy, go-go dancer, lesbian, call girl and artist's model.
    In the process, Héroux takes the opportunity to  show off a great deal of Mlle Ouimet's form and structure. His film finds at least 13 separate excuses to  separate its star from her brassiere.
    Truth to tell, Mlle Ouimet's superstructure is a bit too substantial to be genuinely aesthetic. Héroux compensates for her bosomy excess by keeping his basic plot exposition spare and fast-paced.
    The film's major failing is a dramatic one — it has little genuine conflict development. As a result, Valérie moves along quickly but without much motivation.
    Director Héroux almost seems to have conceived his project in two parts: a first half, full of female eye-candy, for the men;  a second half, brimming with romantic eyewash, for the ladies.
    The cast members —including Guy Godin as Valérie's ultimate true love, and Andrée Flamand, another former-Miss Québec contender, as her lesbian roommate — are all adequate to their limited tasks. Their dialogue, unfortunately, is badly dubbed.
    His final product, a low-key catalog of sexploitational film cliches, looks best when viewed as a sly Gallic joke. As one patron quipped after Friday's last showing, "It's the funniest film I've seen in years."

The above is a restored version of a Vancouver Express review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1970. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Director Denis Héroux's boast, quoted at the top of my review, spoke to the many cultural changes that were the result of Québec's "Quiet Revolution." Shortly after his election in 1960, the province's dynamic premier Jean Lesage had introduced the term "distinct society" into the national conversation, and a previously ultra-conservative Québec awakened with a new self-awareness. Héroux's leading lady, Daniel Ouimet, was born to a family that could trace its Canadian roots back to the 17th century. She was already known as 1966's Miss Québec and a Radio-Canada game-show host when Héroux undressed her in front of his camera. Instead of marginalizing her, Ouimet's debut role launched a film career that included eight more features, as well as stage and television work. Québec's "distinct society" included a star system supported by a press that actually took an interest in its homegrown celebrities. Ouimet's career was news, never more so than when her romantic ties to a convicted drug trafficker named Michel Mastantuono resulted in a U.S. court appearance. Her March, 1976 sentence (to five years probation) slowed down, but didn't end, Ouimet's career as a broadcaster and recording artist. In 1993, she began a seven-year run as host of the VAT talk show Bla Bla Bla, gaining new fame as a Québécoise Oprah.
After Valérie, Denis Héroux directed Ouimet twice more: in his 1970 feature Initiation, which found its way to Vancouver, and 1973's Y'a toujours moyen de moyenner!, which didn't. The picaresque Valérie was the first in a series of saucy, softcore features that reflected the sexual energy released by the province's political revolution as a new generation of artists came of age. About a dozen pictures made up a sub-genre labelled "maple syrup porn" (a silly locution coined by a tin-eared Variety headline writer, and adopted by an unpoetic English Canadian press), a moment that made possible the growth of a distinct French Canadian cinema.