Frontlines

The allure of la Laure

Wayne Grigsby August 13 1979
Frontlines

The allure of la Laure

Wayne Grigsby August 13 1979

The allure of la Laure

Frontlines

Wayne Grigsby

As far as limousines go, it wasn’t outrageous at all. Had it been Hollywood, it would have been at least a block long and fully loaded: bar, TV, stereo, the works. But, after all, this was Grand’ Mère, Quebec, so Carole Laure was swept onto the set of her latest film, Gilles Carle’s Fantástica, in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz 300 SD—one of the more restrained models, a five-seater, fuel-saving diesel. Still, it was a limo. And that says a lot about the changes in the Canadian film industry. It’s okay to be a star now. And Carole Laure, by all the conventional yardsticks, is a star.

If she kept scrapbooks, Laure could fill a couple with the rave reviews for her starring role in Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, the French film that walked off with this year’s Oscar for best foreign film. It also picked up the best film of the year award from America’s prestigious National Society of Film Critics. Back home in her Montreal apartment, you could measure the scripts she has been offered by the bushel, their postmarks suitable for a stamp collection. She is gorgeous, blessed with a hauntingly beautiful face and one of the few bodies anywhere that looks best undressed. Playboy has offered her a spread every year since 1973. She’s smart enough to turn them down along with offers she got to do films like The Other Side of the Mountain and The Story of 0; box-office winners but critical clinkers.

. But for star or for tyro, film-making is always a game of hurry up and wait. On this hot, shimmering, sunny morning in the rolling hills north of her native Shawinigan, Carole Laure is waiting for the props men to convince a flock of pigeons to erupt from their cage on cue. So far the birds have only appeared one by one, and without enthusiasm. Time’s a-wasting, the producer’s pacing, and the star is waiting—not so patiently. Electrical wires are attached to the cage and the birds are given a wee jolt from the generator. Nothing. A bucket of water is fetched and sluiced across the bottom of the cage. Suddenly motivated, the pigeons burst out of the cage, surprised but undamaged, and, best of all, they do it in picture-perfect form. Huzzahs and handshakes, then on to the next sequence: closeups of Carole reacting to the pigeons’ flight,

from a camper-trailer window.

As technicians rig up their next camera platform, Laure paces nearby. She’s smaller than one might expect, and frailer, with a trace of street-urchin hunch to her shoulders. Jet black hair hangs in five or six thin, tight braids that circle her head and dangle on the collar of her jade green brocade pyjamas. She paces and turns, paces and turns, positively itching to climb inside the trailer, peer out the rear window and connect with the camera.

“I’m completely comfortable in front of the camera,” she says. “It’s a kind of communication. It’s through this big machine that millions will see me.”

“It’s a quality all the great ones seem to have,” notes cinematographer François Prôtat, “an ability to feel at home in front of a big crew, in the midst of lights, cables and all the other paraphernalia, sometimes with a crowd looking on, and still be as comfortable as a fish in water.”

Director Gilles Carle, with whom Laure has had a long and fruitful collaboration dating back to 1972—the time of her first major film appearance, in his La mort d’un bûcheron (Death of a Lumberjack)—this time has cast her

as the star of a travelling musical troupe called Fantástica. Having instigated the release of the pigeons, Laure’s character is supposed to peer out the back window and watch in awed delight as the birds flutter off, all the while taking instructions from Carle who is crouched under the window. “You’re looking out the window . . . that’s it. . . but I want a little more interior light... then you see the pigeons . . .” Laure is lighting up the porthole, her face animated and alive with wonder. “Yes, yes, you’re amazed ... good. Good. Then you look off at Paul.” Laure’s face shrinks and sours, a lightning shift in mood. “Good! Superbel” crows Carle. “Don’t move too much,” he cautions, “we’re in a very tight closeup.”

It’s in the closeups that Carole Laure earns her healthy fees. Few other actresses—or actors—in the world can create as complicated, contradictory and compelling a world with just a look. She commands a glare that fixes villains like insects on a pin; a glance that’s as baleful as a Bassett’s; a smoulder that promises unspeakable carnal pleasures. With eyes wide open and amazed, Laure can give us innocence long-vanished. She can use those eyes to advantage both on and off the screen. A glare is as good as a tantrum when chiding a production assistant; a glance is enough to discourage autograph seekers.

In a monologue for a stage show she mounted with Lewis Furey, her live-in collaborator, Laure candidly, if not brazenly, stated that one of the things she most liked in life was seeing herself in a tight closeup on a giant screen. “I’m photogenic, it’s a gift,” she shrugs. “I want to use it to seduce millions. I want to make contact with the world.”

That contact is made all the more attainable through working with cinéastes like Gilles Carle, she is quick to admit. He is one reason for her recent return to Canada, for she adds: “I’ll go wherever there are good, intelligent films with something to say being made. I’m ambitious. I want to work with the greats. Do you realize how spoiled I am to be having Gilles Carle write films for me? [People have] seen his work at Cannes, he’s got a worldwide reputation. It’s an actor’s dream! In each film wç’ve made together, he’s taken something in my character, my background and made it into film. If you took the films we’ve made together and put them end to end, you’d have my life. Not so much in the literal sense, but certainly in the emotional sense.”

Fantástica is yet another aspect of the Carole Laure story. Despite being the star of the troupe, Laure’s character (called Lorca in the script) wants to be anything and everything else: a mother, a homemaker whipping up a trout pizza, a lover to a rustic philosopher, an activist fighting multinationals, and the idol of thousands. “I want to have kids, two or three,” echoes the real Carole Laure, “but I also want to spend my life working in film. I want to dance, I want to study, I want to travel.” But then along comes another good project and she throws herself headlong into it.

Laure has learned from the unhappy experiences of Geneviève Bujold, whose contractual obligations forced her into cinematic junk like Earthquake, to step very carefully around proffered scripts. But she will jump at a good prospect, and in fact, Laure had a lot to do with getting Fantástica before the cameras this year. At last year’s World Film Festival in Montreal, she approached producer Guy Fournier and asked if he would produce it. “It was cocktail conversation, so I said, ‘Sure’,” says Fournier.

“On April 2 she called from Paris saying she’d found half the money, was I serious about the other half? I said ‘let me get back to you.’ T want an answer right now,’ said Carole. So I said,‘Okay ’.” The project is budgeted for $2.5 million, a hefty sum for a French-language film, and much of it attracted by la Laure’s draw at the ticket office. For her efforts Laure will bank between $100,000 and $150,000 plus a percentage of any profits.

The project had been rattling around since 1976, almost making it into production in 1977 under the title Exit. But it was shelved by complications that still have tongues wagging and buzzing in the close-knit world of Quebec cinema. Carle and Laure had been living together since the days of La mort d'un bûcheron, collaborating on subsequent projects like Les corps célestes and La tète de Normande St-Onge. Laure took a liking to the music of Lewis Furey (né Greenblatt), an anglo Montrealer with a following in café and cabaret circles, a singer-songwriter whose music might be described as street-corner a cappella meets rock meets Kurt Weill. Furey was invited to do the music for La tète de Normande St-Onge, and out of that triangular collaboration blossomed the idea for a film about a travelling musical troupe. So did a love affair between Laure and Furey.

While waiting for the financing for the musical project to come through, Carle decided to do L'ange et la femme, a story about an angel (Furey) bringing a murdered girl (Laure) back to life, and their ensuing love affair. A minor film, shot for $18,000 cash with a total budget of $53,000, it nonetheless created quite a furor. The love scenes were underexposed but explicit, and critics clucked about the perversity of a • cuckolded film-maker watching his lover make love to another man under the pretext of art. Legends mushroomed about the tensions on the set while the film was shot.

Laure bluntly refuses to talk about it. “I won’t talk about my private life in the pages of newspapers and magazines,” she snaps. Furey glosses it over, and only Carle is willing to discuss the matter. “Myths, they’re all myths,” he

snorts. “There was a crisis, but it was because we were shooting in —35°(F) weather, 45 shots a day for nine days. Carole and I had split up six months before we started shooting. And to accuse me of perversion is ridiculous. I’m not a puritan, but neither amia voyeur. I can watch people make love and it doesn’t affect me one bit. I can watch people make love the way I can watch people eat. We’re all still friends, and it hasn’t affected our work in any way. Carole and Lewis live together and the three of us are working together without difficulty.” Whatever happened, it has simply added another layer of mystery to the life story of Carole Laure.

An orphan, informally adopted by the Martel family in Shawinigan, she won’t discuss her childhood beyond the fact that she shared the house and affections of her adopted parents with six other children. She took nine years of piano lessons, cavorted in the surround-

ing woods, went to school and, like all the other little girls in Shawinigan, could have grown up to be a secretary or a schoolteacher, if not a wife. She left for Montreal at 18 and says her life really started at that point. For a year she taught school in Montreal but soon became involved with a theatrical troupe called Les Saltimbanques. Minor parts on the stage led to minor parts on the screen. Then came her audition for Gilles Carle in 1972, and that was the end of her beginning in the business.

Early features in newspapers spelled her surname “Lord.” Legend in Shawinigan has it that she married one Serge

Lord, then ran off to the big city. That same legend has it that she’s 34 years old. Laure denies it all. “They misspelled the name in those early stories,” she says flatly, and denies the marriage to—and existence of—a Serge Lord. She also denies being 34, but neither will she divulge her real age. Best estimates are that on Aug. 5 she turned 30, give or take a year.

Then there’s the whole kerfuffle surrounding Sweet Movie, a film she did for cinematic wild man Dusan Makavejev, a frontal assault on sexual and political repression in the Western world. The shooting ended controversially, with Makavejev charging that Laure was unco-operative and unprofessional, and Laure countering that he had violated professional ethics. As a consequence, the film attracted a great deal of attention at the ’74 Cannes film festival. Again, Laure is extremely reluctant to discuss the matter, but she does say that Sweet Movie was her one unsat-

isfactory professional experience.

Laure takes her work seriously. She doesn’t go in for chitchat on the set, preferring to talk only about the work at hand, and rarely with anyone outside the circle of people with whom she works directly. More often than not, her face is set in concentration or in sullen impatience. When off the set, she keeps up her piano and attends jazz ballet classes whenever she can. While shooting a film in Paris last year, she spent the day on camera with Yves Montand and the evening onstage at the Palace with Lewis Furey, developing and honing a superb stage show that was acclaimed by critics and public alike when it played Le Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal, and again when they returned to Paris to play Le Bobino. Laure sang Furey’s throaty, seductive tangos and ballads, played piano and a little accordion and moved about the stage, a lithe and enigmatic presence. “You have to be able to do a bit of everything, more and more,” she says. “It’s another string for my harp. Besides, I love Lewis’ music, the poetry of it, and we worked up interior monologues that I think had a great appeal for people. We were saying very personal and very true things. It had a vulnerability, that show.”

Back on the set, and aware that an observing journalist will soon want an interview, Laure keeps a distance, skittering away when approached, reluctant to take time away from preparation and concentration. But when she finally consents to talk, she attacks the interview with an intensity that borders on the overwhelming. She leans forward and batters away with enthusiastic candor.

“I want to be a star. I want to be one of the biggest. I want all sorts of offers ... because that’s when you start to develop some kind of independence. Being able to choose is a luxury. It’s not like being a painter, where you can just pick up a canvas and go to work. You have to wait for the offers. I want to work with the really great directors, but there’s no guarantee that they want to work with me. It’s frustrating. I have a lot of energy, I can’t be inactive. I’m in love with this métier.”

Although forthright when she speaks of her career, as the conversation turns to her craft Laure softens, her tone wondrous yet analytical. “What interests me in being an actress is taking an emotion and making it bigger, taking part of my personality and blowing it up. I want to make it real, so real it looks like a documentary. Did you see Diane Keaton in Interiors? No makeup, nothing to hide behind. In making films, the person who has the last moment of truth is the actor.” Q