The Festival du Nouveau Cinema prides itself on having a cutting edge appeal, featuring a wide array of boundary-pushing films and a plethora of new and emerging voices. For Pascal Plante, the festival has been a great stepping stone on the way to becoming one of the strongest voices in the young Quebec film scene, as filmmakers are finding increasing success across the border with natives like Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) and Jean Marc-Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). More than just a leader on the scale of arthouse cinema, Quebec is also becoming a strong indicator of the new voices in American cinema.
Plante’s new film, a short called Blonde aux yeux bleus is making serious traction on the festival circuit. Before screening at the FNC, the film picked up the award for Best Canadian Short Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
At a brisk 17 minutes, Blonde aux yeux bleus is a remarkable work in subtle, classical style. The story of a Quebec mother and daughter along the coast of Florida as they prepare for a pageant, the film is a subtle but evocative portrait of love, loneliness and family. The film’s magic lies in its subjectivity, and for such a small production, it goes to painstakingly lengths to bring us into the world of these two women.
The young girl, a four-year-old with blonde hair and an adorable round face, commands the direction of the film. The camera hangs low, staying on her level. A moving camera follows her around their hotel room, bringing us intimately into the mindset of a child in a strange new world. Her sense of playfulness pervades, and she seems like a beautiful and happy little girl. Supportive, her mother makes her repeat refrains about how wonderful and happy she should be. It seems ideal.
Things start to crack around the edges, though. Without ever falling deeply into abuse or unhealthiness, we understand this is not just a vacation but a trip to attend a pageant. The mother pushes without being insistent, while the daughter pushes back, preferring to play in the sand and draw. There is a bittersweet element to their relationship which is amplified by being in a foreign country and surrounded by English speakers. They are all each other has, and that is wonderful and beautiful, but also profoundly sad.
The film’s great appeal is its naturalism. The quickness of short productions often, by necessity, foregoes intimacy. The cast and crew take the time to settle, time that isn’t always possible on such a limited schedule. Yet, Blonde aux yeux bleus never feels anything but natural and organic, and it is working in the service of great and contradictory emotions. The great stars of Quebec film are all women — I couldn’t tell you why, but no man is able to touch the range of emotions of the likes of Suzanne Clement, Anne Dorval or Julianne Côté, and in the growing tradition of a very female oriented Quebec cinema, Plante forges his own strong voice and announces his presence as one of the future stars of the Quebec cinema industry.
Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she is the former film editor of Sound on Sight and a freelance writer.