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Il était une fois dans l'est

(Once Upon a Time in the East)

Year: 1974
Language: French
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 101 min
Director: André Brassard
Producer: Pierre Lamy
Writer: André Brassard, Michel Tremblay
Cinematographer: Paul van der Linden
Editor: André Corriveau
Sound: Jacques Blain
Music: Jacques Perron
Cast: Sophie Clément, Frédérique Collin, Michelle Rossignol, André Montmorency, Jean Archambault, Manda Parent, Denis Drouin, Claude Gai, Denise Filiatrault
Production Company: Les Productions Carle-Lamy Ltée, Mojak Film, Société nouvelle de cinématographie

Il était une fois dans l'est captures a day in the life of a marginalized group of people in East End Montreal, including old women in back alley tenements and transvestites and lesbians who frequent Chez Sandra, a gay bar and night club on the Main. Having won a million trading stamps, Germaine Lauzon (Manda Parent) gathers a group of women – les belles-soeurs – in her modest apartment to help her paste them. However, they steal the stamps and ransack her apartment. Hélène (Denise Filiatrault), once Queen of the Main, quits her waitress job and attempts a comeback with the permission of Maurice (Denis Drouin), a dominant figure on the Main who runs Chez Sandra. A drag show is being prepared during which Carmen (Sophie Clément), a young cowgirl singer, will make her debut and the transvestite Hosanna (Jean Archambault) will be humiliated in his costume of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. Meanwhile, Hélène’s uncle, la duchesse de Langeais (Claude Gai), returns from a year in Mexico, while Lise Paquette (Frédérique Collin), a waitress who had worked with Hélène, decides to seek an illegal abortion and dies.

Il était une fois dans l'est, based on the bleak depictions of Quebec in Michel Tremblay’s many plays, is brought to the screen with great panache by director André Brassard (who also directed the plays). Though the dozens of characters and their relationships are probably confusing for an audience unfamiliar with the source material, the film is a splendid panoramic summation of Tremblay’s vision of a people desperately acting out their dreams and illusions. It screened in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Festival de Cannes and was released in France with French subtitles.

By: Peter Morris

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