By Force of Courage | Anthology 1971-1995
By Georges Privet
To discover or rediscover the films and videos co-directed by Pierre Falardeau and Julien Poulin is not only to trace the artistic roots of a major filmmaker and to speculate on the underestimated contribution of his co-director, but also to witness the birth of a remarkable creative collaboration, unique in its portrayal of the evolution of Quebec.
Between the former anthropology student fascinated by the power of the image (Falardeau) and the novice actor captivated by the possibilities of sound (Poulin), bonds were quickly forged that gave shape to a work based on social observation, political critique and the struggle for independence.
From The Fight Must Go On (1971) to Speak White (1980), the first phase of their work already bears the hallmarks of their concerns: the examination of the apparently innocent rituals that serve as outlets for the struggles of Quebec society (wrestling galas at the Centre Paul-Sauvé, trips to Parc Belmont); the linking of those rituals to struggles elsewhere in the world (of the Tamils, of the Algerians); the exploration of the entire gamut of tools used to wield power (the police school in The Magra, but also an exhibition of «Canadian » art in Paris in The Canadians Are Here); the occasional use of a highly present off-camera voice (a technique that finds full expression in the poetry of Speak White); and the skilfulness with which the editing plays deftly with similarities and contrasts (a little in the manner of Gilles Groulx, Santiago Alvarez or Chris Marker). In sum, a way of looking at, of revealing and of commenting on reality that documents not only the extent of our alienation, but also the mechanisms that allow things to remain as they are.
For while Falardeau and Poulin’s work induces awareness and encourages change, it is under no illusion; it simply – which is already a lot – and lucidly reveals the tangled web of alienation and confronts it, hopelessly yet with determination. Despite its inevitably uneven character and the awkwardness of youth (coinciding with the early years of video), one would seek in vain, thirty years after The Fight Must Go On, a body of work that better or more completely bore witness to this pivotal period than that of Pierre Falardeau and Julien Poulin.All that remained was for the two comrades to succeed in reaching those to whom their work was most directly addressed: the mass audience in Quebec,which would discover them with Elvis Gratton.
It is ironic that after making Elvis Gratton – the film that would reveal them to the general public and would, more than any other film, come to symbolize their joint work – Pierre Falardeau and Julien Poulin decided to officially put an end to their collaboration. Officially, for although that was the last film they co-directed, the two friends continued to work together on several other projects.
With perspective, it is tempting to wonder what distinguishes a work like Pea Soup (1978), one of their last and best co-directed films, from one like Time of the Buffoons (shot by Falardeau in 1985, but only released in 1993).Tempting, yes, but pointless, given that Falardeau, working on his own, pursued the same concerns as in their collaborative films. Among his trademarks: a unique way of using a specific event as a microcosm of socio-political discontent (whether a night out at the tavern in Pea Soup or at the Beaver Club in Time of the Buffoons) ; a particular way of detourning (or even stealing, as Falardeau himself suggests) images from other sources to give them new meaning (the ads and bits of television programs that fill Pea Soup, the excerpt from Speed that accompanies the text of One Minute for Independence) ; a knack for using popular culture to make pithy ideological comments (cutting James Bond and Pierre Elliott Trudeau back to back in Pea Soup or making Elvis Gratton President of the Intellectuals for the No Committee ). Not to mention a remarkable ability to pirate reality and expose its workings (a handy gift at a time when reality increasingly seeks to disguise itself as fiction and politicians themselves borrow the slogans of Elvis Gratton).
Indeed, it is obvious that Elvis Gratton and its sequels gave our two friends the chance to lampoon the kind of target that was once the subject of their short and medium-length films (the Paris exhibition in The Canadians Are Here and the boy eating KFC in Pea Soup almost seem to be lifted from a Gratton film !). (...) Even Falardeau and Poulin themselves have a hard time distinguishing what each contributed to their joint work. Regardless, the result was an exhilarating, fruitful and necessary creative collaboration between two men who dared look the Quebec of their day in the face and record what they saw, By Force of Courage…
Photo : ©Gabor Szilasi. With the kind permission of the artist.
Falardeau, videographer - a few reads:
Pierre Farladeau, Julien Poulin. Montréal : Ministère des affaires culturelles, Musée d’art contemporain, 1983, 52 p.
Albert, Steve. « Rêves "made in USA" versus la rue Panet », La Presse, 22 juin 1978, A5.
Barrette, Pierre. « Hommage: Pierre Falardeau, entre réalité et "histoires" », 24 images, no 145, décembre 2009-janvier 2010, p. 4–5.
Bellavance, Guy. « Falardeau-Poulin », Parachute, juin 1982, p. 40-41.
Bissonnette, Alain. « Pierre Falardeau et Julien Poulin, l’aventure de cinéastes-artisans », Cinéma Québec, no 50, 1977, p. 22-24.
Dusseault, Serge. « Le vidéo : malgré tout l’espoir », La Presse, 17 janvier 1976, D9.
Montal, Fabrice. « L’homme révolté et les maîtres fous. Esquisse d’une vision de la nation dans le cinéma de Pierre Falardeau », Bulletin d’histoire politique, vol. 19, no 1, automne 2010, p. 37–44.
Pontbriand, Chantal. « Pierre Falardeau : sur le film et le vidéo au Québec », Parachute, avril-juin 1976, p. 32-34.
Tardif, Dominic. « Le temps des bouffons : le brûlot de l’homme libre Pierre Falardeau », Le Devoir, 24 septembre 2019.