With a song in her heart

Ambition goes beyond the possible

Published: Aug 05 2016, 01:01:am

Saturday, July 28, 1973.
LA MORT D’UN BÛCHERON (The Death of a Lumberjack).Co-written by Arthur Lamothe. Music by Tristan Hansinger, Willie Lamothe, Chick Peabody and Peter Van Ginkel. Co-written and directed by Gilles Carle. Running time: 115 minutes. Restricted entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: nudity and coarse language. In French with English subtitles.
FOR SOME REASON, COMEDIANS seem to be natural-born preachers. Charlie Chaplin, once considered "the funniest man in the world," was always good for a sermon on the subject of socialism. Bob Hope can still wax pontifical on patriotism, and even Bill Cosby gets serious on the drug question.
    It's little wonder, then, that Gilles Carle, Canada's most gifted director of screen comedy, wants to preach social revolution. At the same time, though, he still wants to make people laugh. His two most recent films, La Vrai Nature de Bernadette and La Mort d'un Bûcheron, are most successful when the director's separate purposes are least mixed.
    Bernadette, made last year, is the steadier of the two. It shared top honours at the most recent Canadian Film Awards with Bill Fruet's Wedding in White, and collected a best actress award for its star, Micheline Lanctôt.
    (An interesting subject for further study is the Québec talent bank, the source of Canada's most distinctive and stylish performing artists. Unlike their English-speaking confreres, Québec filmmakers seem to have no trouble finding dynamic and attractive Canadian actors to star in their movies).
    Jarring changes of mood is a real problem in Carle’s current picture, La Mort d'un Bûcheron (The Death of a Lumberjack). The new project runs three styles together, producing a film that is by turns a romantic-comedy, a skin flick, and a mystery-thriller.
    It opens with a nasty bit of business in a snowbound forest. A logger is being pursued by armed trackers. He is shot and, as the scene ends, his body is being hacked to pieces with a chainsaw.
    With a thriller mood thus established, Carle unexpectedly goes comic, introducing his heroine with one of the all-time great clichés: small town girl bussing to the big city. Her name is Marie Chapdelaine (Carole Laure), and she is a lumberjack's daughter.
    She doesn't know whether her long-lost father is dead or alive, and she has come to the city to search for him. In a bright and funny scene set in a public library, she meets an ambitious young newspaperman whose name is, of all things, François Paradis (Daniel Pilon).
    (For those who have not read the classic Canadian novel Maria Chapdelaine, Carle provides a bit of dialogue that explains that a François Paradis was Maria's true love in the book. Aside from their names, the movie characters share few personality traits with their 1913 literary counterparts).
    Having set an old-fashioned romance blooming, Carle then has his heroine audition for a singing job in a country and western bar run by sleazy Armand St. Amour (Willie Lamothe). She gets the job, but only after agreeing to perform topless.
    Based on past performance, Carle could have made any one of the three styles work. The blend, unfortunately, doesn’t.
    The problem seems to arise out of Carle's own need to make his films say something. While other Québec filmmakers have been making ringing revolutionary statements and starving, Carle has been making successful entertainments. Now he seems to want to join the revolutionaries, but without giving up his audience.
    Bûcheron is his not very successful compromise. It is a flashy, fleshy and funny film with an underlying tale of industrial unrest, exploitive absentee bosses and murderous goon squads.
    In a single film, Carle has tried to contain all of these themes, and move in all of the directions currently being explored by his fellow Québec filmmakers. It's a cinema project as ambitious as it is impossible.
    Without in any way disparaging some of the fine films seen in this year's [1973] Varsity Festival program, I think it is fair to say that Carle's are the most important movies showing. It is ironic, though, that outstanding domestic films from Québec must be seen here in the context of an "international" movie package.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1973. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: In a 2009 interview, Carole Laure recalled working on La Mort d'un Bûcheron. “It was during that film that I learned the core of what would become my career,” she told a French reporter in Paris. “Gilles Carle, an exceptional teacher, showed me everything: how to act, how to film, how to edit. He also taught me about desire, about wanting to create, invent, feel, communicate. I was inspired by the beauty of it. He gave me confidence in myself.” Bûcheron was the 24-year-old Laure’s fourth feature film appearance. Written specifically for her, it was also the first of six pictures she would make with Carle, with whom she lived for a time in the early 1970s. The picture was nominated for the Palme d’Or at 1973’s Cannes Film Festival and was the beginning of Laure’s international movie career.
    A year later, she had the starring role in European director Dusan Makavejev’s notorious “art” film Sweet Movie, and thereafter worked regularly in both Paris and Montreal. In 1978, Bernard Blier directed her in Préparer vos mouchoirs (Get Out Your Hankerchiefs), winner of the best foreign language film Academy Award. In 1981, she was the only woman in the cast of John Huston’s testosterone-heavy Sylvester Stallone picture, Victory.
     By this time, Laure also had a parallel career as a pop singer. Her vocal talent had been noted in La Mort d'un Bûcheron, and was featured in the 1980 musical drama Fantastica, her fifth film directed by Gilles Carle. Afterwards, she enjoyed success as a recording artist. Laure added writer/director to her résumé with the features Les fils de Marie (2002) and CQ2 - Seek You Too (2004), both screened at the Cannes Film Festival among the Official Selections in their respective years. She’s since written and directed 2007’s La capture and Love Projet (2014). Later this month (August 2016), she’ll preside over the five-day International Film Festival Les Percéides as its honorary president. Now in its eighth year, the festival is held in Percé, Québec. The multi-talented Carole Laure turns 68 today (August 5).      

See also: Their sixth theatrical feature together was Gilles Carle’s adaptation of the classic Canadian novel alluded to in La Mort d'un Bûcheron. Carole Laure earned a Genie nomination playing the title role in 1983’s Maria Chapdelaine.