Here’s what Mile End thinks about love

A Mile End Tale explores local late night theories on love and relationships.

Daria and Severyan in A Mile End Tale


Jean-François Lesage’s documentary A Mile End Tale, takes us on a late night journey through Mile End following the recently single Severyan, as he asks his neighbours about love and relationships.

I spoke to Lesage earlier this week about the documentary and how he managed to captivate its intimate and authentic moments.

conteposterKayla Marie Hillier: How did you come up with the idea for the film?
Jean-François Lesage: I wanted to make a film where there is a lot of conversation — about love, about relationships — but really the types of conversations that you hear late at night when people are drunk. That was something that I really wanted to capture. I had the camera for 50 days, so I thought I’d spend 10 nights with five different friends and see what happens. When I arrived at the first friend’s house, I realized after three days that the couple that lived there would break up. So I thought, let’s forget about these four other friends and just focus on Severyan and Daria. Once Severyan’s girlfriend left, there was nothing interesting left to shoot anymore. He was alone in his kitchen and it was really sad. So I suggested he go out in the Mile End and meet the neighbourhood and tell people about his situation and ask people about love and relationships and see what happens. That’s how it all started.

KMH: The film opens with Severyan and Daria saying goodbye — that scene wasn’t staged at all?
JFL: That’s real, that’s completely real.
KMH: Did they mind you filming such a personal and private moment?
JFL: They were extremely generous with me. I don’t really know how to explain how it happened. But they were extremely open, they were extremely generous. That’s how that scene was possible.

KMH: Throughout the film, you feature musical performances by a rabbi, Charlotte Cornfield, Allyson Reigh, Jason Stew and Sandman Viper Command — how did that come together?
JFL: A lot of things are very spontaneous. I would see a musician on his balcony and we’d shout, “Hey! Hello! We’re shooting a film! Can we come up?” It was during Pop Montreal, so one night this band from Toronto was having a spontaneous gig on the street on Parc — we shot that as well. Other times I contacted the artist, like Charlotte Cornfield, I contacted her and she played on her balcony. Most of the encounters are spontaneous but some things I had to put into place. For example, I wanted to have a rabbi in the film, I wanted to have a Hasidic Jew in the film. I had to work for seven weeks to try to convince someone from the community to be in my film.

conte2KMH: Had you always set out to document Mile End or was that something that came about while filming?
JFL: I think it was from the start. I thought it would be interesting to have a kind of geographical limit. To have the neighbourhood be my open-sky studio. We never go south of Mont-Royal, we never go north of Van Horne, we never go west of Hutchison, we never go east of St-Denis. It’s kind of a road movie — but by foot. I chose to limit where we would shoot.

KMH: When you were asking people about love and relationships, was there anything surprising about the responses that you received?
JFL: There were many, many things that were unexpected. I’m always interested in how we try to explain our own chaotic love lives. There were so many theories that people would bring up. I thought it was always interesting how people tried to explain their own disappointments.

That’s what I like about documentary film, there are things that just happen. We were walking under a bridge and we met a homeless man who talked with us. And it seemed like his whole life had been destroyed because of infidelity. His story really related to our quest — to have that encounter late at night was really special. ■


A Mile End Tale opens at Cinema Excentris (3536 St-Laurent) this Friday, Dec. 6

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