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La Mort d'un bûcheron

(Death of a Lumberjack)

Year: 1972
Language: French
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 114 min
Producer: Pierre Lamy
Director: Gilles Carle
Writer: Gilles Carle, Arthur Lamothe
Cinematographer: René Verzier
Editor: Gilles Carle
Sound: Henri Blondeau
Music: Willie Lamothe
Cast: Willie Lamothe, J.-Léo Gagnon, Marcel Sabourin, Daniel Pilon, Pauline Julien, Denise Filiatrault, Carole Laure
Production Company: Les Productions Carle-Lamy Ltée

Maria Chapdelaine (Carole Laure) leaves her rural Quebec village and travels to Montreal in search of her estranged father who disappeared seven years earlier. She takes a job as a topless singer in a country-and-western club owned by Armand St-Amour (Willie Lamothe) and becomes romantically involved with a journalist named François Paradis (Daniel Pilon). Both men assume a certain control over Maria and exploit her for their own gain. She also meets Charlotte (Pauline Julien), an independent woman and political writer who lives next door to her.

One day, Maria is approached by her father’s mistress, Blanche (Denise Filiatrault), who thinks she knows where he might be. Maria, Armand and Blanche drive north to the Laurentians, followed by François, and meet Ti-Noir (Marcel Sabourin), a lumberjack who had worked with her father. After considerable pressure he reveals that her father was killed under orders from the lumber company. Ti-Noir had been ordered to keep silent and, now frightened, he commits suicide. François tracks Maria down and goads her into making love to him one more time. Afterwards, she rejects him and moves on to pick up the threads of an independent life.

One of director Gilles Carle’s best films, La Mort d’un bfcheron screened as Canada’s official entry at the Festival de Cannes and was both widely admired and very popular in Quebec and France. Comic, tragic and titillating all at once, it is structured in two parts – "Lettres B une illettrée" and "Lettres B un inconnu" – each of which has a distinctive style and focuses in different ways on the issue of Maria’s exploitation and her reaction to it. The first is self-consciously erotic and voyeuristic, presenting Maria in a lush complex of imagery as a naive victim, unaware of her exploitation; the second, more naturalistic section depicts Maria moving toward an awareness of her exploitation and the contradictory social forces that condition it.

Like all of Carle’s films, La Mort d’un bfcheron escapes easy categorization. It is episodic in nature and features excellent performances that tend to buttress the film in place of an easily discernible plot structure. Also characteristic of Carle is the film’s allegorical reflection of contemporary Quebec society, featuring a movement away from the problems of urban reality and toward an exploration of both the past and rural Quebec. As in Carle’s earlier Red (1969), this pursuit is revealed ultimately as an empty promise; Maria’s return to the past is shown to be a delusion, and forces her to come to terms with her present reality. Carle’s emphasis on the melodramatic nature of the story is reflected by the name of the main character, taken from a popular Québécois novel, Maria Chapdelaine, which he would also adapt into a film (again with Carole Laure as the lead) in 1983.