God, now I miss Montreal! I never lived there, mind you, but it’s where my father’s side of the family comes from, and I’ve visited lots of times. I remember well the apartment buildings seen in the movie, with their dark brick fronts and outdoor winding staircases (though my grandparents and brother lived in Verdun, not the Plateau. And my other brother later lived in Ahuntsic, which is completely different. But I digress.)
Our intrepid heroine Ariane has lived in the same tiny, shabby apartment in downtown Montreal for twenty-five years. The paint is peeling, the plumbing is a joke, the stairs are narrow and steep. On the other hand, it’s got an amazing view of the nearby rooftops and a few trees, terrific natural light almost all day but especially in the morning, and it’s perfectly situated in the lively, diverse Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. But one day she gets an eviction notice. Should she fight it, and probably lose? Or should she take this as an opportunity to do a major spring cleaning and take root someplace else?
La fille de Montréal is a beautiful celebration of Montreal, of life, and the things that make life worth living: friends, silly hats, friends in silly hats, goofy old art projects, dancing to bad French 80s pop, discussing the voices of trees, and teaching the younger generation about ancient Roman erotica. Everything Ariane uncovers and packs is a trigger for fond reminiscing or an outright flashback, like the friends’ conversation about Pope John-Paul II’s visit to Montreal in ’83 or ’84 (He came to Ottawa as well, and had a big open-air mass on the Lebreton Plains. And yes, my family and I went. A lot of the faithful wore JPII-branded t-shirts or waved around pennants with his face on it. Catholics are classy.)
The film is about celebrating your roots. Not just where you come from, though there is some of that, but being mindful of what nourishes you now—in other words, count your blessings. But also, that you shouldn’t be too tied to your roots, that it’s okay to sometimes take a chance and spread your wings. As Ariane despairs of finding a decent and affordable place in the Plateau, she gradually casts her net wider but categorically refuses to consider the suburbs. She loves walking, she loves shopping at the tiny family-owned stores just down the street, she couldn’t deal with soulless cookie-cutter residential-only neighbourhoods.
But the pickings are slim, and eventually Ariane considers something different: a house in the country about an hour out of Montreal. It’s got a garden, fruit trees, and gorgeous lilac bushes. Plus, room for all her stuff. After much thought, she decides to try the country. If it doesn’t work out she can move back, but the movie ends with her settling in nicely, and thinking it’ll be all right.
So, take a chance, and accept change. Things never stay quite the same, though there’s almost always some continuity. The 95-year-old owner of that candy store on the corner died and the place got turned into a trendy café—but the new owners repainted the bar and shelves with the same old colour scheme, and hung up a picture of the old owner. One friend of Ariane’s was diagnosed with AIDS and died not long after—but another friend was pregnant, and her son grew up into a handsome young man who’s an equal member of their circle.
Director Jeanne Crépeau, who was in the audience, said that this is not really a queer movie. And it’s true, queerness is not the focus. Ariane is a lesbian but has a wide and diverse circle of friends, a couple of whom happen to be gay. Queerness here is not that big a deal, just part of the human experience, another thread in the tapestry of life in the big city.
PS: It’s movies like this that remind me how much I miss hearing Québecois French. The accents, the slang, they were just music to my ears! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go read some Michel Tremblay and watch a few episodes of La petite vie…