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Léa Pool

Director, Screenwriter
(b. January 1, 1950 Switzerland)

Born in Switzerland, Léa Pool moved to Quebec in 1978 and almost immediately started working on her first fiction film, Strass Café (1979). Even in this first, 60-minute feature, Pool examined the theme that would remain central to her entire oeuvre: the individual wandering through a familiar yet alienating space in search of love and meaning.

While Strass Café is clearly indebted to Marguerite Duras, with characters only referred to as “elle” and “lui,” its use of Montreal’s urban landscape as a backdrop for the lovers’ existential quest also places it within the tradition of Quebec art cinema dating back to Claude Jutra’s À tout prendre (1963) and Gilles Groulx’s Le chat dans le sac (1964), where the search for love and identity takes place in the city that is at once engaging and oppressively austere. Similarly, Pool’s later film À corps perdu (1988) uses the city as the medium through which a lovelorn photographer (Habich) seeks to regain his sense of self after having been abandoned by the man (Voïta) and the woman (Tremblay) he loves. By taking pictures of his city, he attempts to construct at least an imaginary impression of his identity and love. À corps perdu also places two of Pool’s other important motifs in the foreground: homosexuality and the relationship between life and art.

Pool had already introduced these issues in her second feature film, La femme de l’hôtel (1984), which won several prizes including best Canadian feature at the Toronto Festival of Festivals and a Genie for Louise Marleau’s performance. In La femme de l'hôtel, a female cineaste (Baillargeon) develops a strong attachment for a strange, aimless woman (Marleau) whose life she captures on film. While the homosexual content of La femme de l’hôtel is not as manifest as in À corps perdu, Pool still makes the point that, along with art, an intimate relationship — whether heterosexual or homosexual — might provide one of the few foundations upon which to build authentic human experience.

Anne Trister (1986) brought Pool public recognition beyond the film festival circuit. The film elaborates the same themes with greater clarity. A young painter, Anne (Guilhe), leaves her native Switzerland and goes to live in Montreal with her older friend, Alix (Marleau), after the death of her father and the breakdown of her relationship with her mother. Lost in a (literally) fatherless and (figuratively) motherless world, Anne seeks stability through her artwork and her love for Alix. Yet in the end, her intense affection for Alix goes unrequited, and the studio, which she has covered from top to bottom with her trompe l’oeil paintings, is eventually demolished.

In the 1990s, Pool moved away from art cinema and increasingly toward the mainstream, while maintaining her interest in rootless characters seeking love. Her shift toward commercial cinema that began with Mouvements du désir (1993), a stylistically stunning but somewhat simplistic depiction of a love affair between two strangers on a train, has also resulted in a work like her recent film Lost and Delirious (2001). Pool’s first film in English, Lost and Delirious is a formulaic movie about a budding lesbian relationship among three stereotypical schoolgirls.

At its best, however, Pool’s venture into the mainstream yielded the minor masterpiece Emporte-moi (1999). The film revolves around 13-year-old Hannah (Vanasse) learning about life and love in Montreal in 1963. It comprises Pool’s characteristic themes: lesbianism (in Hannah’s attraction for an older woman); the power of art to give shape to life (represented by Godard’s film Vivre sa vie, 1961); problematic relationships with parental figures; and the city as a site of both alienation and self-discovery. Less challenging and affected than her art films and more compelling and original than her other commercial films, Emporte-moi might very well be the best coming-of-age film made in Quebec since Jutra’s Mon oncle Antoine (1971).

A prolific filmmaker, Pool has also directed documentaries, short films, TV shows and the Swiss feature La demoiselle sauvage (1991).

Film and video work includes

Laurent Lamerre, portier, 1978 (director; editor)
Strass Café, 1979 (director; co-writer with Luc Caron; producer)
A corps perdu, 1988 (director; co-writer with Marcel Beaulieu)
Hotel Chronicles, 1990 (director; writer; TV)
La demoiselle sauvage, 1991 (director; co-writer with Laurent Gagliardi, Michel Langlois)
Mouvements du désir, 1993 (director; writer)
The Gender Tango, Women: A True Story series, 1996 (director; TV)
Postcards From the Future, Women: A True Story series, 1996 (director; TV)
Gabrielle Roy, un documentaire, 1997 (director; TV)
Lost and Delirious, 2001 (director)
The Blue Butterfly, 2002 (director)