Revolution a dirty game

Vision includes street-level humanity

Published: Oct 17 2015, 01:01:am

Monday, July 14, 1975.
BINGO. Co-written by Lise Thouin, Michel Capistran, Roch Poisson, Jean Salvy. Music by Michel Conte. Co-written and directed by Jean-Claude Lord. Running itme: 113 minutes. Mature entertainment; in French with English subtitles.
BACK IN IN 1968, WHEN a bright new federal agency called the 
Canadian Film Development Corporatlon was the great white hope
 of the domestic film industry, a Toronto company made a movie
 called Explosion. The story of a U.S. draft dodger who takes flight to Canada, it was one of the first features made with CFDC money.
    At about the same time, a 25-year-old Montréaler named Jean-Claude Lord was trying to sell a script for a film about political terrorism in Québéc. Despite the fact that he already had a feature film to his credit — the 1966 melodrama Délivrez-nous du mal — he couldn't put together a production deal.
    Explosion was filmed on locations here in Vancouver. A mediocre thriller, it should have been called Bomb.
    Five years later, Lord finally got to make Bingo, his own look at contemporary youth in crisis. In the interval, the nation lost its innocence with respect to terrorist bombings and kidnappings. Today, his film is chillingly effective, not because the incidents in it could happen, but because they already have.
    A superior thriller, Bingo had its local premiere Sunday [July 20, 1975] at the Dunbar's Festival of international Films. Solidly scripted and 
acted, it deserves to have a full house for its second and final screening tonight.
    Bingo is deceptively straightforward. It opens with the slick sauciness of a Québécois sex comedy. A handsome young man is taking pictures of his pretty girlfriend. There is a bouncy pop tune on the soundtrack.
     But wait.
     What's hidden away in the cheerful-sounding lyrics? What's with all the emphasis on destruction and death?
    François (Réjean Guénette) and Geneviève (Anne-Marie Provencher) are a lovely couple, but they will grow apart as the story unfolds. François becomes radicalized and is drawn into the vortex of larger events.
    Lord's screenplay (written in collaboration with four others, a group that included his wife Lise Thouin) has been called a fictionalized version of 1970's October Crisis. His film has been compared to explosive items like Denys Arcand's Réjeanne Padovani (1973) and 1972's État de siege, Constantin Costa-Gavras's tough-minded tale of urban warfare in South America.
    The comparisons are meant to be complimentary. Sincere tributes to the battering impact of Bingo's unfolding drama, they don't do justice to the humanity and genuine subtlety of Lord's vision.
    Both Arcand and Costa-Gavras view their stories from the vantage points of the mighty. Lord assumes a more lowly perspective, recording his tale through the eyes of a working-class family, unwilling and unwitting participants in the ultimate tragedy. In doing so, he creates a family unit as real and as convincing as any in recent film.
    François, a student, has reached a dangerous age. He knows it all. As a result, he both loves and resents his father, Eugène (Jean Duceppe), a frustrated factory worker.
     Eugène is one of many laid off by an American-owned company shedding those who've spent their lives in its thankless employ. Of course the union calls a strike.
     There is violence, and François shows a militancy that his father can't muster." You know what's wrong with you?" the angry son says. "You're a damn nice guy. But you're a coward and a quitter."
    Too young to be a coward, François becomes an activist. Too smart to  be a quitter, he next becomes a terrorist. He thinks he know what he is getting into and why.
    He thinks he knows what he is fighting for, and for whom.
    Lord doesn't give it to us all at once. We learn what is happening at approximately the same rate as François, sharing his anger, idealism, exhilaration, fears, disillusionment and, ultimately, learning a harsh, honest lesson about life in modern Canada.
    One tremendous urban action film, his game of Bingo is a winner.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1975. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Jean-Claude Lord's Bingo was the first of three major Canadian theatrical features to recall the events of October 1970. Released on March 14, 1974, it took more than a year to arrive in Vancouver. That it only managed a film-festival booking said a lot about the state of the domestic distribution business at the time. Despite its limited exposure in English Canada, Lord's picture had cost its backers a mere $450,000, and it was both a commercial and critical success within Québec. In his 2000 book A Century of Canadian Cinema, Ontario Film Institute founder Gerald Pratley called it "the most important film of 1974." Seven months later, the National Film Board delivered writer-director Robin Spry's unsparing documentary feature, Action: The October Crisis of 1970. Released on September 16, 1974, it took an additional seven months to cross the Rockies for two screenings in Vancouver (on March 7 and 8, 1975) that were sponsored by the Pacific Cinémathèque. Writer-director Michel Brault's fictionalized docu-drama Les Ordres  followed Spry's Action into theatres 11 days later, on September 27, 1974. Vancouver audiences didn't get to see the picture until August 20, 1975.
    In what was arguably his best picture, Jean-Claude Lord explored the chillingly contemporary theme of youth radicalization, an issue much exploited (but not explained) in the current federal election campaign. Unlike Michel Brault, Lord did not see himself as a social reformer, and his subsequent feature projects reflected his desire to pursue a commercial filmmaking career. And yet, even in his most undemanding work — the 1986 family drama Toby McTeague comes to mind — there is a certain grittiness of purpose. In 1986, Lord created and directed all 13 episodes of the landmark CBC/Radio Canada TV series Lance et compte / He Shoots, He Scores. It was the first Canadian TV drama to be simultaneously broadcast in both French and English. A téléroman, it took as its subject the one thing both communities were passionate about: professional hockey. Lord produced additional seasons of Lance et compte in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, along with other television work. After a 40-year career writing, directing and producing narrative fiction, Lord has recently taken an interest in the traditional documentary form. In 2013, he released Les Criminelles, a personal project prompted, he said, by the refusal of any broadcaster to take an interest in its subject: the decriminalization of prostitution. With that 108-minute feature, Lord took his place among Québec filmmakers willing to directly advocate for social change.