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Le chat dans le sac

Le Chat dans le sac

(The Cat in the Bag)

Year: 1964
Language: French
Format: 35mm Black & White
Runtime: 74 min
Director: Gilles Groulx
Producer: Jacques Bobet
Writer: Gilles Groulx
Cinematographer: Jean-Claude Labrecque
Editor: Gilles Groulx
Sound: Marcel Carrière
Music: John Coltrane, Antonio Vivaldi, François Couperin
Cast: Claude Godbout, Barbara Ulrich, Pierre Maheu, Jean Dufresne, Paul-Marie Lapointe, Jean-Paul Bernier, Manon Blain, André Leblanc, Véronique Vilbert
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada

“I am Québécois, so I must find my own way,” says Claude (Claude Godbout), the young protagonist in Gilles Groulx’s seminal Le Chat dans le sac. As important in the early development of Quebec cinema as the contemporaneous Nobody Waved Good-bye was in English-Canadian filmmaking, Le Chat dans le sac uses documentary, direct-cinema techniques and Godardian distancing devices to tell the story of a young, Hamlet-like journalist who struggles to come to terms with his place in Québécois society and Quebec’s place in Canada.

Claude cannot decide whether to try to change the troubled society in which he lives or to make personal compromises. It bothers him that his anglophone, Jewish girlfriend Barbara (Barbara Ulrich) is more concerned with her theatre career than with social issues and questions of self-identity. Claude leaves Montreal for the countryside to reflect on the situation. In his isolation, he finds his ties to Barbara gradually loosening. As time slowly passes, their love fades.

The impact of this film on Quebec intellectuals was unprecedented. As critic Robert Daudelin has stated: “At last we were confronted by a film which really belonged to us, one in which we were happy to recognize ourselves and see ourselves close up. [It] was (and remains) the image of our most recent awakenings.” At the time of the film’s release, one of Montreal’s newspapers ran a headline announcing “Le Chat dans le sac has provoked a debate on the identity and aspirations of Quebec.”

If its political allegory now seems simplistic and its style highly derivative of Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, the film undeniably captures the mood of an era when feelings counted more than reason. It received the Grand Prix at the 1964 Festival du Cinéma Canadien in Montreal. Le Chat dans le sac was identified as a “culturally significant film” by the AV Preservation Trust through the 2002 Masterworks programme.