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Claude Jutra

Claude Jutra: Filmmaker

Jim Leach
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Claude Jutra
    Book Description:

    Through close readings of Jutra's major films, Jim Leach analyses their distinctive cinematic qualities and discusses the responses they have received from reviewers and critics. He focuses both on the films and the historical and cultural contexts in which they were made, arguing that critics have frequently used inappropriate criteria to judge them and that these misunderstandings reveal much about attitudes to Canadian cinema in general. Jutra's films are shown to reflect the instability of their cinematic and cultural contexts and raise important questions about nationhood. Jutra always identified himself as a separatist and his films were shaped by the rapid changes in Quebec society during the Quiet Revolution and by the political tensions of the sixties and seventies. At the same time his work was often appreciated by English Canadian critics and audiences and was affected by federal film policy and institutions.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6791-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-1)
    (pp. 3-33)

    One of the most eagerly anticipated events at the 1963 Montreal Film Festival was the screening of Claude Jutra’s first feature film, Àtout prendre.Jutra had already become “a hero to French-Canadian youth” through his frequent appearances on television, most notably as the host of two series about cinema broadcast in 1954 and 1961.¹ He had been active as a filmmaker for almost fifteen years, first coming to the attention of the public in 1949 when, at the age of nineteen, he won a Canadian Film Award for best amateur film. During the 1950s, Jutra had been a key...

  6. 2 THE PRECISE IMAGE Encounter with McLaren
    (pp. 35-51)

    The dual allegiance that Jutra declared in dedicatingÀ tout prendreto McLaren and Rouch appealed to his legendary ability to combine artistic and scientific interests. McLaren, as a leading exponent of animated film, explored the abstract/artistic possibilities of the medium while Rouch, who turned to film as an extension of his ethnographic fieldwork, epitomized the apparently opposed documentary/scientific approach. Jutra saw them as representing “two different polarities” with McLaren standing for “the formal side of things, the understanding of the medium, its physical dimension,” and Rouch for “thecinéma-véritéside, the contact with people, the integration of a lived...

  7. 3 THE UNSTABLE EYE Encounter with Rouch
    (pp. 53-65)

    WhenMouvement perpétuel...was shown at the Antibes festival in 1950, the program also includedLes Magiciens de Wanzerbe(The Wanzerbe Magicians,1948), a short film by Jean Rouch. Nevertheless, Jutra apparently did not grasp the significance of Rouch’s ethnographic documentary films until he sawMoi, un noir(I, a Negro,1957) during a visit to Paris in 1958. As the legend has it, this film so impressed Jutra that he went to Africa to meet the filmmaker and accompanied him on a Central African journey. He described his travels with Rouch in a long article published in three issues...

  8. 4 PHANTOM OF REALITY À tout prendre
    (pp. 67-95)

    By making an independent feature film in Quebec, when there was little cultural and virtually no industrial support, Jutra felt that he was doing the impossible. Yet the effect was strangely euphoric: “everything became possible,” and he found himself working with “an incredible freedom.”¹ He later remarked that he beganÀ tout prendre“in a vacuum” and that “because I had nothing to lose, I put everything into it.”²

    As Jacques Lacan suggested, however, “saying it all is literally impossible: words fail,” although Lacan was careful to add that “it’s through this very impossibility that the truth holds onto the...

    (pp. 97-119)

    Despite its commercial failure and decidedly mixed critical reception,À tout prendreestablished Jutra as “one of the major hopes of Quebec cinema.”¹ Nevertheless, he spent the next few years struggling to pay off the debt he had incurred, and he was unable to find backing for a new film. Until the establishment of the CFDC in 1967, there was little support for independent filmmaking in Canada and, as Jutra discovered when he approached United Artists with a project for a musical, the Hollywood studios had little interest in assisting a new national cinema in a country that they treated...

    (pp. 121-141)

    On 6 June 1970 an article by Jean-Pierre Tadros appeared inLe Devoirdescribing a reception given by the NFB for the people of Thetford Mines to mark the completion of shooting for Jutra’s new feature film. Many of the guests had appeared in the film, and Tadros described a community united by “enthusiasm” and “euphoria” after having experienced “something marvellous and mysterious.” The impact of the film on the community anticipated its effect on its eventual spectators. Tadros, however, also referred to darker undercurrents that threatened this sense of community and influenced the film’s depiction of small-town life during...

  11. 7 MAD LOVE, LETHAL LOVE Kamouraska
    (pp. 143-171)

    The commercial success and critical recognition ofMon oncle Antoine,along with the earlier success of Don Shebib’sGoin’ Down the Road(1970), suggested a promising future for Canadian cinema in both official languages. This promise has remained largely unfulfilled, at least partly because of the persistent problems of distribution and exhibition. Most of the growing number of films produced in Canada received little, if any, exposure in Canadian cinemas. The result was a strong tendency at the CFDC in the 1970s to support films supposedly aimed at the “international” market. Among other things, this meant films that adhered to...

  12. 8 A HAPPY FILM? Pour le meilleur et pour le pire
    (pp. 173-191)

    In many ways,Pour le meilleur et pour la pirewas the follow-up film Jutra had wanted to make afterÀ tout prendre.His involvement as director, screenwriter, and actor matched his multiple roles in the making of the earlier film and contrasted with the shared authorship of the intervening films. The new film also represented a return to a more modest budget after the comparative epic grandeur ofKamouraska.Accordingly, Luc Perreault welcomed Jutra’s latest effort as a “renewal with the spirit of his first real feature-film.”¹

    In addition to the parallels between the two films, however, Perreault noted...

  13. 9 INSTITUTIONAL MADNESS Ada and Dreamspeaker
    (pp. 193-211)

    After the commercial failure ofKamouraskaandPour le meilleur et pour le pire,Jutra’s future as a filmmaker looked very bleak indeed. Ironically, the Canadian film industry had just entered a boom period as a result of the Capital Cost Allowance Act (CSA) of 1974. This act “created a tax shelter for investors, enabling them to deduct one hundred per cent of their investment in features certified as Canadian from their taxable income and thus defer taxes until profits were earned.”¹ Although many films were made under this scheme, the complicated regulations meant that the main beneficiaries were lawyers...

  14. 10 MISSING FATHERS Surfacing and By Design
    (pp. 213-229)

    After making a successful transition from film to television, and from French-to English-language production, Jutra was rather less fortunate with his subsequent projects for the CBC.Seer Was Here(1978), another contribution to the “For the Record” series, was a dark comedy about life in a men’s prison whose main characters are once again alienated from mainstream society, but this time the focus is on a group of adult males. Although it was apparently the most popular of Jutra’s three contributions to the series, it received some intense critical abuse in the press even before it was broadcast and has...

  15. 11 DREAMS OF ELSEWHERE La Dame en couleurs
    (pp. 231-244)

    After Jutra’s death, Brian Johnson describedLa Dame en couleursas a “belated yet masterly return to his own culture,” but his opinion was not widely shared.¹ When the film was released in 1985, many reviewers in Quebec dismissed it as curiously old-fashioned and ideologically regressive, and Jutra once again found himself living in the shadow of his own legend. The critical response is to some extent understandable because the film is set in a vaguely defined past and its main characters are children living in a mental hospital operated by nuns.La Dame en couleursis almost self-consciously constructed...

    (pp. 245-250)

    Jutra’s place in Canadian film history seems secure, but as my account of his films and their reception has suggested, it is difficult to define exactly what that place is. It is a little easier to situate his work if we limit ourselves to Quebec cinema, where he seems to occupy a middle-ground position somewhere between two of his most prolific contemporaries, Gilles Carle and Jean Pierre Lefebvre. All three were indebted to the French New Wave. Whereas Carle sought to adapt the new approaches to the demands of commercial film production, rather like Claude Chabrol in France, Lefebvre made...

    (pp. 251-262)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 263-284)
    (pp. 285-298)
    (pp. 299-302)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 303-306)