SHOW BUSINESS

A dark prince of cinema

Brian D. Johnson May 11 1987
SHOW BUSINESS

A dark prince of cinema

Brian D. Johnson May 11 1987

A dark prince of cinema

SHOW BUSINESS

When Montreal film director Yves Simoneau offers his business card, it comes with an explanation. The card shows a scarab embossed in gold against a nocturnal sky. “Cinema,” explains Simoneau, “is the art of the night. Gold represents the light. And the scarab, a symbol of continuity, is chasing the night.” Like Simoneau’s films, the image on the card is daring, stylish and artfully premeditated. His sleek thriller, Pouvoir intime (Intimate Power), which opens in English Canada this month, has won international acclaim and has been a hit at the Quebec box office. At 31, Simoneau is rapidly gaining a reputation as the hottest new director on Canada’s cinematic horizon.

Already the intense, dark-eyed Simoneau has demonstrated remarkable virtuosity as a director. Pouvoir intime is a lean, linear narrative about the botched robbery of an armored truck that contains a bag of government secrets and a desperate security guard who has locked himself inside. Simoneau’s other recent release, Les fous de

bassan (In the Shadow of the Wind) is utterly different. Adapted from Anne Hébert’s novel, it is a gothic tale of madness and memory set in the 1930s and filmed on the Gaspé’s Bonaventure Island.

With a logic more akin to poetry than prose, Simoneau’s camera is in constant motion, panning and circling through an intricate choreography of images. Piers Handling, program director of Toronto’s annual film festival, said: “No other film-maker in Canada has such a kinetic sense of what images can do.

You can’t help thinking of the young Orson Welles making Citizen Kane. Simoneau is completely in love with the camera.”

In fact, Simoneau says that he cannot begin shooting until he finds one key image that makes the rest of the

film fall into place—what he calls his “fresco.” In Les fous de bassan, the fresco was an image of chalk-white faces looming from the darkness of an outdoor dance. It occurred to him when he was riding the Paris subway and noticed how the passengers, pressed together, were reflected in the window. “When I saw that,” he recalled, “the film was done in my head.”

Outside Quebec, the work of Frenchlanguage film-makers has often remained obscure. But Simoneau has already crossed the barrier. He is now casting roles for The Black Robe, a $10-million adaptation of Brian Moore’s novel about the Jesuits in 17thcentury Canada. Produced by Toronto’s Alliance Entertainment (Quest for Fire), The Black Robe is scheduled to be shot in the forests z of Quebec this fall, i Simoneau, who always 5 insists on helping to write the films that he makes, collaborated on Moore’s screenplay. “I don’t like this notion of auteur,” he said, “but if you are shooting the film, you have to put your own images on the screen.”

The director says that he owes his instinctive style in part to what he calls “the feminine universe” of his childhood; he was brought up by his single mother in Quebec City, the only male among three sisters. School bored him; dropping out of a Montreal junior college at 17, he became a news cam-

eraman for a local TV station and learned his craft on the job.

Within two years he was making his own documentary shorts. Simoneau’s first dramatic feature, the 1982 thriller Les yeux rouges (Red Eyes), showed early signs of the taut style that he mastered with the more accomplished

Pouvoir intime. The next year he made a feature-length documentary on adult cartoon novels, Pourquoi l’étrange monsieur Zolock s’interessait-til tant à la bande dessinée? ( Why was strange Mr. Zolock so interested in comic books?). It won the 1984 Genie award for best documentary.

Now, Simoneau’s talent has caught the eye of Hollywood, where the elite Creative Artists Association has signed him as a client. Unlike some of his nationalist predecessors in the Quebec film industry, Simoneau is eager to direct Hollywood-scale movies in English. “I was born in the most francophone city in North America,” he said, “and I’ll never lose that, but we are surrounded by English.”

A bachelor who says that he does not have the time to get married, Simoneau is a restless cosmopolitan—a veteran of more than 40 trips to Europe. He belongs to a generation that is impatient with formal boundaries, both national and esthetic. He also rejects the notion that artistic and commercial ambitions are mutually exclusive; in fact, he confidently predicts that he will one day become a multimillionaire. Then, tempering his heresy with a knowing smile, he added, “Is it very bad to say that?”

— BRIAN D. JOHNSON in Toronto