The cold world of Catherine Martin

Catherine Martin’s latest film Une jeune fille is beautiful and gloomy.


Une jeune fille

Catherine Martin isn’t a marquee name in the Quebec film world, but she’s been steadily turning out work since 1990, making 10 films (including shorts and documentaries) in her own particular style — quiet, minimal, reflective and as gloomy as a November morning. Her latest is Une jeune fille, which very much continues in the same vein.

Teenage Chantal (Ariane Legault) has to care for her dying mother (Hélène Florent). When the mother dies, Chantal flees to Gaspé, where she befriends solitary woodsman Serge (Sébastien Ricard).

Martin’s films are not typically heavy on plot or dialogue, and this is no exception. The rest of the film mainly consists of terse exchanges between the two, alternating with footage of Chantal wandering by herself in the woods. There’s a plot point about some neighbours who want to buy Serge’s land, but Martin seems about as resistant to developing this story as Serge is to the idea of selling.

At the advance screening I attended, Martin dedicated the film to all the inhabitants of “notre pays, le Québec.” (The phrase “sayin’ it don’t make it so” comes to mind, but we won’t get into that right now.) Ironically in light of this nationalist sentiment, her style most vividly recalls an English-Canadian cinematic trend, that of mid-period Atom Egoyan and his legions of dour imitators. The visual style is cold, the movements of both camera and actors are restrained and stiff; characters are tormented, but choose to bottle their emotions up inside.

With the rural setting, the mannered style and the sparse, tense two-way relationship at the core of the minimal story, I couldn’t help but think of Denis Côté’s recent Vic+Flo ont vu un ours. But in a lot of ways, the two films couldn’t be more different. Martin is nowhere near as playful or provocative as Côté. In fact, there’s no sense of fun in her films; at best they’re melancholy and contemplative, at worst a giant bummer.

If this seems like a bad review, it’s not really intended to be. The Gaspé exteriors are breathtaking, young Legault’s performance is full of subtle strength and Martin’s deliberate style has some exquisite moments of austere cinematic beauty. My only intent in describing the unrelenting gloom of Martin’s vision is for potential viewers to know what they’re getting themselves into. As my mom likes to say, it’s not a criticism, just an observation. ■

Une jeune fille opens Friday

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