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La Petite Aurore l'enfant martyre

(Little Aurore's Tragedy)

Year: 1951
Language: French
Format: 35mm Black & White
Runtime: 102 min
Director: Jean-Yves Bigras
Producer: Roger Garand
Writer: Emile Asselin
Cinematographer: Roger Racine
Editor: Jean-Yves Bigras
Cast: Rolland D'Amour, Roch Poulin, Yvonne Laflamme, Jean Lajeunesse, Janette Bertrand, Marc Forrez, Paul Desmarteaux, Lucie Mitchell, Thérèse McKinnon, J.-Léo Gagnon
Production Company: L'Alliance Cinematographique Canadienne Inc.

La petite Aurore l'enfant martyre is probably the most notorious of Quebec films and the one that best characterizes the themes and orientation of postwar Quebec cinema. It's a melodrama based on an extraordinary true story, adapted for the screen from the famous novel and play Aurore, l'enfant martyre by Émile Asselin.

A 12�€'year�€'old girl, Aurore (Laflamme), lives with her father Théodore (Desmarteaux) and mother Delphine (McKinnon) on a farm in Quebec. Delphine is bedridden and close to death and is cared for by a neighbour, Marie�€'Louise (Mitchell). On the surface, Marie-Louise appears concerned and helpful, but, secretly, she is waiting for Delphine's death to further her relationship with Théodore.

When Delphine dies, Au­rore discovers that Marie�€'Louise abetted and has­tened her mother's death — but Aurore says nothing. Théodore and Marie�€'Louise marry and Aurore is sent to stay with her aunt (de Varennes) but the priest (Forrez) insists she return home. Marie­-Louise, now Aurore's stepmother, is terrified that Aurore will divulge the truth about her murderous act and begins to systematically ter­rorize and torture her.

Aurore remains silent, and Marie-Louise continually provides excuses for Aurore's bruises to Théodore. Catherine (Bertrand), one of their neighbours, discovers what is happening and suggests to the priest that he should take the doctor (Gagnon) to see the child. But Aurore is already close to death, and the priest can do nothing more than give her the last rites. Marie�€'Louise and Théodore are arrested, and although Marie�€'Louise pretends she knows nothing about the cruelties, she is condemned to death and Aurore's father to 10 years of hard labour.

Given its morbid tone and its themes of forebearance and self�€'sacrifice, it is not surprising that the film has undergone much analysis and discussion by Que­bec critics and commentators. Remarks made in La Presse (August 1968) about the film were typical of commentary at the time: "It is an exact reflec­tion of pre�€'1960 québécoise society. It reveals a jumbled collection of the themes on which that society was based: the rural milieu, the influence of the priest and the doctor, the omnipotent (step) mother, the ineffectual father, and through everything, a pronounced taste for sadism and masochism...." The resignation of Aurore is equalled only by the wickedness of the stepmother, whose abuse seems to be an outlet for her suppressed sexuality.

The father from the real-life story sued the producers for damages and a permanent injunction on the re­lease of the film. Though the case de­layed the film's release for some months, the suit was eventually lost. (It appears that one of the most persuasive arguments from the producers was that the play had been performed at least 4,000 times between 1928 and 1951 without protest from the father or his family.)

The film was a tremendous popular success, grossing at least $100,000 in its first year of release. It continues to be one of the only Quebec films that is regularly re�€'released to theatres.

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