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Gilles Carle

Gilles Carle1929

Carle is a central figure in the history of Quebec cinema, having created a diverse, rich, complex body of work over 40 years, which despite its unevenness, contains several enduring classics. Carle joined the National Film Board shortly after its relocation to Montreal from Ottawa, and along with a generation of Quebec film artists, he revolutionized the NFB, changing its approach to cinema.

Carle's nationalist aspirations soon led him to leave the NFB and create his own production company, which gave him greater freedom to explore subjects close to his heart. He apprenticed as a documentary filmmaker at the NFB before turning a short on a snowplow driver into a feature film, La vie heureuse de Léopold Z. (1965), which became a commercial success. Carle’s early work championed ordinary Quebecois workers, and his use of joual (a working-class dialect in Quebec) was groundbreaking. He also looked deep into the contradictions of Quebec society with a humanist’s eye. His filmmaking revealed his broad sense of humour, which endeared him to the public, and captured the soul of Quebec society while not being afraid to uncover its neuroses.

Carle studied at the École des Beaux Arts, McGill University and Université de Montréal. With Gaston Miron and Louis Portugais he founded the publishing company Editions de l’Hexagone in 1953, writing film, television and literary criticism. From 1955 to 1960 he worked for Radio-Canada as a graphic artist, and continued to write film criticism as well as novels, short stories, film scripts and plays. He joined the NFB in 1960 as a researcher but quickly moved into directing. After the success of La vie heureuse de Léopold Z., Carle left the Film Board in 1966 to work for Onyx Films, before starting his own production company with producer Pierre Lamy, Les Productions Carle-Lamy.

Carle's early features reveal an artist in search of a style, playing with form and content. After a brief flirtation with Godard (Le viol d’une jeune fille douce, 1968), he discovered his own voice with Red (1969) and Les mâles (1970), which dealt with Métis and First Peoples brushing up against modern Quebec society. These and other contradictions of contemporary Quebec provided the core of his work over the next decade and showed an artist attuned to the changes that a rural Catholic province was undergoing as it moved toward becoming a modern, urban, secular society. His undoubted masterpiece of this period was La vraie nature de Bernadette (1972), which reveals all these ideas. Carle also began to challenge naturalist conventions in his films at this point.

His relationship with actress Carol Laure led to five feature films (La mort d’un bûcheron, 1972; La tête de Normande St-Onge, 1975; Les corps célestes, 1973; L’ange et la femme, 1977 and Fantastica, 1980) that explored society from a female perspective. In the characters that Laure plays, her body is used and enjoyed by men for pleasure, which allowed Carle to explore the themes of exploitation and repression. Laure's character became a loose symbol for Quebec.

As Quebec and its aspirations changed, so too did Carle’s films. By the early 1980s, he embarked on a series of expensive adaptations of Quebec literary classics: Les Plouffe (1981), Maria Chapdelaine (1983) and the television series Le crime d’Ovide Plouffe (1984). Les Plouffe was a major commercial success; it won seven Genies and the Prix Ouimet-Molson.

At this point, Carle returned to documentary filmmaking. Over the next 15 years he alternated between commercial filmmaking, using his new muse Chloé Sainte-Marie, and making a number of very fine documentaries that explored subjects as diverse as chess (Jouer sa vie, 1982), the artist (Ô Picasso, 1985) and the devil in North American society (Le diable d’Amérique, 1990). He also made a film to commemorate the 25th anniversary of French production at the NFB (Cinéma, cinéma, 1985). His recent fiction features La guêpe (1986), La postière (1992) and Pudding chômeur (1996) are a vague shadow of his best work.

By Piers Handling

Film and video work includes

Tout l’or du monde, 1959 (writer)
Le prix de la science, 1960 (writer)
Wilfred Pelletier, chef d’orchestre et éducateur, 1960 (co-writer with Clémont Perron)
Dimanche d'Amérique, 1961 (director)
Manger, 1961 (co-director with Louis Portugais)
Patinoire, 1962 (director)
Un air de famille, 1963 (director)
Natation, 1963 (director)
Patte mouillée, 1963 (director; editor)
Percé on the Rocks, 1964 (director)
Solange dans nos campagnes, 1964 (director; writer)
La vie heureuse de Léopold Z., 1965 (director; writer)
Place à Olivier Guimond, 1966 (director; writer; TV)
Place aux Jérolas, 1967 (director; editor)
Le Québec à l’heure de l'Expo, 1967 (director; narrator)
Le viol d’une jeune fille douce, 1968 (director; writer)
Red, 1969 (director; co-writer with Ennio Flaiano)
La feuille d’érable, 1970-1971 (co-director with Aimée Danis, Denis Héroux)
Stéréo, 1970 (director; writer)
Les chevaliers, 1971 (director; writer)
Un hiver brûlant, 1971 (director; editor)
Les mâles, 1971 (director; writer)
La vraie nature de Bernadette, 1972 (director; writer; editor)
Les chevaux ont-ils des ailes?, 1975 (director)
Les corps célestes,1973 (director; co-writer with Arthur Lamothe)
La mort d'un bûcheron, 1973 (director; co-writer with Arthur Lamothe; editor)
La tête de Normande St-Onge, 1975 (director; co-writer with Ben Barzman; co-editor with Avdé Chiriaeff)
A Thousand Moons, 1975 (director; TV)
L'ange et la femme, 1977 (director; writer)
L'âge de la machine, 1978 (director; writer)
Lonesome Riders, 1978 (director)
Fantastica, 1980 (director; writer)
Maria Chapdelaine, 1981 (director; co-writer with Guy Fournier)
Les Plouffe, 1981 (director; co-writer with Roger Lemelin)
Jouer sa vie, 1982 (co-director with Camille Coudari)
Le crime d'Ovide Plouffe, 1984 (director; TV)
Cinéma, cinéma, 1985 (co-director with Werner Nold)
Equinoxe, 1985 (co-writer with Arthur Lamothe, Pierre-Yves Pépin)
Ô Picasso, 1985 (director; writer)
La guêpe, 1986 (director; writer)
Vive Québec, cité française... ville francophone, 1987 (director; writer)
ONF 50 ans, 1989 (director)
Le diable d’ amérique, 1990 (director; writer)
Miss Moscou, 1991 (director; TV)
Montréal off, 1991 (director; writer)
La postière, 1992 (director; writer)
L’honneur des grandes neiges, 1994 (director; writer)
The Other Side of the Law, 1994 (director; TV)
Le sang du chasseur, 1995 (director; writer)
Épopée en Amérique: une histoire populaire du Québec series, 1996-1997 (director; TV)
Pudding chômeur, 1996 (director; writer)
Moi, j’me fais mon cinéma, 1999 (director; writer)

Note: Updated to January 2003.

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