Quebec filmmaker Manon Briand explores what happens when things turn unpredictable
By MATTHEW HAYS, Special to The Globe and Mail
September 7, 2002
Manon Briand seems only too aware that her latest film presents audiences with a nutty premise, as she sits down to discuss La turbulence des fluids in a swank hotel in downtown Montreal. The film, a follow-up to her 2 secondes, which won over both audiences and critics alike, involves one scientist's quest to figure out why the tides have completely stopped in the Quebec town of Baie Comeau.
"I wanted this to be about something utterly impossible," she says, making clear her film's conceit is odd, but ultimately fitting. "What if something we take for granted, something utterly predictable, suddenly became unpredictable and chaotic and disordered? We take for granted that we'll be alive tomorrow. And then, suddenly, you're dead or someone else is dead. How do we find a reason for that? Is it pure coincidence?"
The coincidence is too close to home for the protagonist of the film, which Briand also scripted. Played by Pascale Bussières - probably Quebec's busiest screen actress - this seismologist is working in Japan when, due to the fact that she was born in Baie Comeau, she's sent back there to investigate the bizarre local halt of the tides. Bussières soon finds there have been a string of unusual coincidences reported by locals, apparently caused by the tide's stoppage. While investigating, she embarks on a romance, rediscovers an old friendship and confronts a series of unexplainable phenomena.
La turbulence des fluids unfolds much like 2 secondes did - in a manner both unusual and thoughtful. The film feels like the thinking person's version of this summer's Mel Gibson hit Signs. Bolstering the film is the perfect cast: Joining Bussières are Julie Gayet, Jean-Nicolas Verreault and iconic Quebec thespian Geneviève Bujold.
Briand says she wanted to use the tide to explore life's loftier themes. "It's a metaphor, an allegory for something else - for life, destiny, the unexpected. Is life coincidence, hazard? Or is it preprogrammed by some power outside of us? Very heavy themes, but I wanted to make them alive in a more entertaining way."
Certainly, fate and circumstance are on Briand's mind once more. And not just in terms of the themes in her latest film, but also the fate the film itself will find, both with critics and the public.
After graduating from Concordia University's film program in the late eighties, Briand embarked on a series of short film and TV projects. By 1996, she was chosen as one of six young Quebec filmmakers to contribute to producer Roger Frappier's anthology film, Cosmos. The feature would go on to win a special award at the Cannes Film Festival. Then, Briand became the toast of Montreal in 1998 with her feature debut, 2 secondes, which won three of the top awards at the Montreal World Film Festival (including best director and best first film). Since then, she directed someone else's script for the made-for-TV movie Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story.
"I certainly fear the response of the public," she confirms of Turbulence's debut. "People are expecting my film to be better than my last film. When you make a first film you're totally free and light . . . you can fail. Then when they say the first one was so great, the level of what you have to do creates so much more pressure. You really have the fear of failing." Briand also notes that her budget has expanded, from under $2-million for 2 secondes to just over $6-million for Turbulence.
"Filmmaking is weird, in that it's both an egoistic thing, and at the same time, it's like creating a gift . . . Obviously, I want to do something good with all the money I've been handed."
As well as summoning striking performances from her cast, including getting Bujold to suffer through another fictional earthquake (her second after the 1974 Hollywood disaster movie Earthquake), Briand is also setting part of a larger trend among the Cosmos six. In 2000, fellow Cosmos veteran Denis Villeneuve made Maelstrom, a film overflowing with oceanic motifs, perhaps most notably the narration of the film by a verbose fish. Last year, André Turpin won accolades for his Un crabe dans la tête, which featured more watered down overtures, including a scuba-diving antihero.
Call them Quebec's New Wave, as Briand's latest only adds to the feeling that she and her peers have a fixation with all things wet.
"The coincidence of the water theme is totally freaking me out too," she confesses. "Because I wrote my film at the same time that Denis wrote his. We were both at in the same Max Film [Frappier's production company] offices then. But we had no idea what the other was writing about. We would talk about anything but our scripts. I went away to make Marilyn Bell, and then I went to Denis's premiere. When I saw all of the things that he had on screen, I was in shock, because so many of the things were similar.
"I can understand that André and Denis might have some similar themes crop up, because they work so closely together. . . . But the coneection between me and them seems more odd. I can't explain it."
The other thing connecting the three is producer Frappier, who has been behind some of Quebec's biggest feature-film success stories (from Pouvour intime to The Decline of the American Empire to Night Zoo).
"I wouldn't have dared to send my script to Geneviève Bujold," Briand says. "It was a total fantasy of mine for her to take the role. He [Frappier] sent her the script and she said she loved it. What a dream."
La turbulence des fluides screens at the Toronto International Film Festival tonight and tomorrow afternoon.