Return to tiff.’s home page

Canadian Film Encyclopedia

Shopping Cart

Francis Mankiewicz

Director, Screenwriter
(b. January 1, 1944 Shanghai, China - d. January 1, 1993)

Born in Shanghai and trained in England at the London School of Film Technique, Francis Mankiewicz split his career between Montreal and Toronto, directing remarkable personal films and indifferent commercial productions.

Mankiewicz directed his first feature in 1972: Le temps d’une chasse, for the National Film Board. The story of three working-class men (Guy L’Écuyer, Sabourin and Dufresne) who go on a hunting trip, bringing along the young son (Olivier L’Écuyer) of one of the men, is a subtle but powerful study in French-Canadian masculinity. Indulging in alcohol, exchanging braggart stories, sexually harassing waitresses at a bar, and teasing, insulting and challenging one another, the three adults unwittingly expose the flaws and myths of Québécois manhood to the boy, who silently observes the collapse of one myth after another. The boy’s father is accidentally shot and killed at the end of the film, which serves as a compelling metaphor for the need to transcend old models of manhood. Far superior to Pierre Perrault’s documentary on a similar subject, La bête lumineuse (1982), the film revealed a major talent that reached its apogee with Les bons débarras (1980).

Considered one of the best films ever made in Canada, Les bons débarras focuses on a young girl, Manon (Laurier), whose obsessive love for her mother, Michelle (Tifo), leads her to dispose of all the men who interfere in her filial relationship. Based on a screenplay by the acclaimed novelist Réjean Ducharme and shot by Michel Brault, the film is reminiscent of its predecessor in its critique of masculinity. But here, the representation of the drunken, lecherous, ineffectual French-Canadian man, which is not without moments of humour and pathos in Le temps d’une chasse, is rendered grotesque through the character of Ti-Guy (Houde), Manon’s intellectually disabled uncle whom she humiliates to the point of driving him to suicide.

Watched in succession, Mankiewicz’s two best films trace the trajectory of the disappearance of man and emergence of woman from the perspective of a child (who is not the stereotyped paragon of innocence). Two of his other personal films Les beaux souvenirs (1981) and Les portes tournantes (1988) examine similar topics but from the perspective of the genders in reverse. The main struggle in Les beaux souvenirs is between a bitter old man and one of his daughters; they are constantly at odds because she reminds him of his estranged wife. In Les portes tournantes, a teenage boy seeks to re-establish contact with his grandmother, bypassing his incompetent father in the process.

As much as these four titles bear the unmistakable imprint of a true auteur, Mankiewicz’s few other films are impersonal works ranging from the little-known adaptation of Louis Saïa and Louise Roy’s play Une amie d’enfance (1978) to the gangster movie And Then You Die (1987) as well as some competent but prosaic TV series, such as Conspiracy of Silence (1990) made for the CBC.

In 1993, Francis Mankiewicz was posthumously awarded the Prix Albert-Tessier for his outstanding contribution to Quebec cinema.

Film and video work includes

Les allées de la terre, 1972 (producer)
Une cause civil, 1973 (director)
Un procès au criminel, 1973 (director)
Valentin, 1973 (director)
L'orientation, 1974 (director)
Expropriation, 1975 (director)
What We Have Here Is a People Problem, 1976 (director)
Suicide en prison, 1977 (director)
Une amie d'enfance, 1978 (director)
Une journée à la Pointe Pelée, 1978 (director)
A Matter of Choice, 1978 (director)
Les beaux souvenirs, 1981 (director)
The Sight, 1985 (director)
And Then You Die, 1987 (director; TV)
Les portes tournantes, 1988 (director; co-writer with Jacques Savoie)
Love and Hate: The Story of Colin and JoAnn Thatcher, 1989 (director; TV)
Conspiracy of Silence, 1991 (director; TV)