Wolfe brings millennials to the arthouse

Francis Bordeleau and the cast of his film reflect on his unconventional, emotional “vomit” of a debut feature.

Catherine Brunet and Antoine Pilon in Wolfe 

Francis Bordeleau has heard the comparisons.

When you make your first film in Quebec at age 24 with entirely private financing, it’s hard not to be compared to Xavier Dolan. When you share his interest in depicting the lives of young people and his love in idiosyncratic pop music drops (and, crucially, you employ his father), it’s hard not to be compared to Xavier Dolan.

“Xavier’s here and Wolfe is over here,” says Bordeleau, making two parallel imaginary points on the table. “It’s just an age thing, I think. I’m not the only young filmmaker in the world! But Québec is a small market. Making categories and making links makes it easier for people to understand something, I guess, but once you see the movie it’s pretty obvious that it’s something else entirely. It’s a real movie – it’s not in the margins. That’s kind of what Xavier saying with his first films – so perhaps in that sense, they meet in the middle when it comes to the general idea, but then we each go our own way.”

Wolfe centers on Andy (Catherine Brunet), a wayward twenty-something who gathers her friends for a party and, reeling from a breakup with Bibiane (Ludivine Reding), takes her own life. Through talking-head interviews with an unseen interviewer (Manuel Tadros) and a twisty series of flashbacks, her friends Axel (Antoine Pilon), Manue (Léa Roy), Monne (Julianne Côté) and Isaac (Godefroy Reding) reflect on the moment and how it impacted their lives forever.

Written in four days and shot in twelve, Wolfe has a very immediate quality to it. Bordeleau has described it as being “vomited” out.

“I had absolutely no expectations,” says Bordeleau when I ask him what he envisioned for his very first film. “I had a single scene in mind, and I built off that scene. I wrote 90 pages without thinking about it, without even picturing where it would go. I never knew what the next line of dialogue would be. It came out naturally, and I told myself I’d fix it later. I never did. What came out was Wolfe as you see it now.”

It’s very, very rare in any sphere that a director and his actors are more or less the same age; doubly so in Quebec, where a strong group of young actors (most of whom have been actors since their childhood and have come up primarily in jeunesse television, the catch-all term for anything that isn’t aimed directly at adults) have slowly been taking over the scene. When I interview young actors, they always describe their relationship with filmmakers as familial – directors who could often be their parents are described as being a cool uncle or cool older sister. That’s, obviously, not so much the case with Bordeleau.

“I knew Ludivine and Catherine and Antoine a little bit,” says Bordeleau. “As it happened, we kind of just passed the script around. There were no auditions. They were hand-picked out of people that I wanted to work with, and by the time we got to shooting, we were already friends. We talked, we drank together – by the time we got to shooting, it was really a group project. We built all the characters together. It was the kind of collaboration that I didn’t necessarily expect. A director is generally considered to be at the top of the hierarchy, but here, everyone worked together. That’s kind of the magic of this film.”

“I needed to work with people who knew each other because I needed that chemistry,” he continues. “I had six months to prepare the film, which isn’t enough to create friendships. Everyone in this movie works a lot, so we couldn’t rent out a cottage for weeks and build from there. In the film, all the kids are very connected and have lots of stories between them; it couldn’t just be that they show up to set and start pretending they know each other. That saved us a lot of work in the long run; even on days where the shoot wasn’t going too well, no one panicked, because everyone knew each other well.”

“I met Francis pretty randomly, at Fantasia, through Ludivine,” says Léa Roy, whose character serves as the closest thing the film has to an audience surrogate. “He sent me the script the next day. I had this completely eclectic script from this young guy that was nothing like I’d ever read before. The second I was impressed by that script, I sort of broke down the barrier between me and Francis. No matter what age he was. On set, of course, I took it seriously – partly because it was my first film and I wanted to do a good job – but it certainly helped that we were all about the same age and all more or less on the same level.”

“I was stunned at how serious and professional they all were,” says Catherine de Léan, who plays Manue’s mother in the film. “Francis directed in a very straightforward, very calm manner; no anxiety at all! In fact, he was the opposite of most directors! (laughs) Directors tend to question themselves a lot and have a lot of anxiety and emotion. Francis was focused – he knew exactly where he was going. You always have to adapt to the elements on-set – but he took everything on so naturally and professionally. He was in total control!”

There’s a sort of sneaky aspect to Wolfe in a way; by casting actors that are huge with a younger audience (particularly Reding, who was the breakout star of Fugueuse, the most popular television show of 2018), Bordeleau is exposing a young (and perhaps unsuspecting) audience to arthouse cinema.

“Arthouse cinema doesn’t really have a very young audience in Québec,” says Roy. “Hats off to Francis for casting it with Vrak TV stars and teen stars to make a poetic, lyrical film. Who knows – maybe it’ll connect with an audience that doesn’t usually go to these kinds of films.”

I point out to Bordeleau that private financing in Quebec isn’t always a good sign, at least from my point of view. “Not always,” he says. “Not to be vain, but this is a real movie. It’s not a marginal thing or a curiosity – it’s a real movie, and it’s possible to do it. The liberalization of the medium and of the camera makes it easier to make movies for smaller budgets – you don’t need to shoot on film. In the States, it’s entirely private financing. We have to break the mentality that institutions are obligatory to make films. I think the institution needs to be there, but in the next ten or twenty years there will be so many more avenues. It’s a start, certainly, but I think there will be two avenues in the future, and maybe they’ll match up at some point.” ■

Wolfe is in theatres Friday, October 26. Watch the trailer here: