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La Femme Qui Boit

Year: 2001
Language: English
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 91 min
Director: Bernard Émond
Producer: Bernadette Payeur
Writer: Bernard Émond
Cinematographer: Jean-Claude Labrecque
Editor: Louise Côté
Sound: Marcel Chouinard
Music: Pierre Desrochers
Cast: Gilles Renaud, Élise Guilbault, Luc Picard, Michel Forget, Lise Castonguay, Fanny Mallette
Production Company: ACPAV

Bernard Émond is a veteran documentary filmmaker whose powerful work tends to address themes of loss, memory and the possibility of capturing fragments of truth. La femme qui boit, his stylish and finely acted debut narrative feature, is distinguished by a spectacular performance from Élise Guilbault in the title role and depicts the pain and confusion of a woman’s ruin after years of alcohol abuse.

Paulette (Guilbault) recounts her life from layers of interwoven memories beginning as an eighteen-year-old farm girl working in a factory in the thirties. When she catches the eye of an influential and wealthy man, she decides to pursue a life of ease. She becomes his mistress and he provides her with an apartment and other luxuries. However, Paulette eventually tires of being concealed in the shadows, and leaves her lover for Frank (Picard), a womanizing bartender. Although Frank is the love of her life, her happiness is only temporary and she begins to drink. In one powerful scene, Frank humiliates Paulette at a dinner with friends by promising another woman a mink coat if she strips for them. Even Paulette’s pregnancy fails to stop the downward spiral that her drinking brings about: although there are brief moments of happiness with her son, Frank’s departure causes her to hit rock bottom.

The screenplay, crafted by Émond, has the texture and detail of a novel, and his skillful direction subtly suggests the social and psychological factors that contribute to Paulette’s gradual downfall. Shot mostly in long takes, often with a hand-held camera, La femme qui boit focuses on small details and gestures, allowing silence and slow discovery to illuminate the life of a damaged woman living in a rigid society.

La femme qui boit was named one of Canada’s Top Ten of 2001 by an independent, ten-member national panel comprised of filmmakers, programmers, journalists and industry professionals.