It took me a long time to tune into André Forcier’s frequency. When I was younger, I sat baffled in front of films like La comtesse de Bâton-Rouge, aware of the man’s mythical standing in the local cinematic landscape but incapable of parsing the heavily literary dialogue and overt bursts of cartoonish magical realism. Characters in Forcier’s movies talk like novels, with elaborate syntax and turns of phrase that are usually ironed out when said novels make it to the silver screen. They speak like no one in the world has ever spoken, which is something that I simply couldn’t unlock as a budding cinephile. It’s only in recent years that I’ve grown to appreciate and even admire Forcier’s steadfast commitment to a unique cinematic voice — a voice that’s proudly out of step with the times, but never feels dated. “I’m modern, but I’m not hip,” says Roy Dupuis’s character early on in Les fleurs oubliées — a rebellious and principled character who, you can guess pretty early on, shares more than a few traits with Forcier.
Albert Payette is a beekeeper who lives on a houseboat on the St. Lawrence. A part-time hermit, he makes a living making mead which he then sells to amorous South Shore housewives or through a network run by his Fattal-dwelling crust-punk nephew Jerry (Émile Schneider). Payette used to be an agronomist, but in a fit of disgust at this former employee Transgenia (an ersatz Monsanto stand-in), he sets one of their fields on fire, branding him an ecoterrorist and persona non grata in polite society.
One night, Payette is visited by the ghost of Brother Marie-Victorin (Yves Jacques), who has returned to Earth to help Albert with his mead and, perhaps, close the loop on the unconsummated love affair with a fellow botanist (Mylène Mackay) he left hanging with his death in a car crash. That appearance is only slightly more disturbing to Payette’s routine than the appearance of a muckraking journalist named Lili de la Rosbil (Juliette Gosselin), who also wants to take down Transgenia and has other reasons to seek out Payette specifically.
Forcier has written his last five films with his wife Linda Pinet, but this time he brought in his sons Renaud and François as well. (He also wrote the music under his “folk sale” alter-ego Robert Fusil). This instantly makes Les fleurs oubliées a more personal film — it’s not hard to draw parallels between proud outsider Payette and Forcier, whose films are quite literally represented in the film in the form of Payette’s mead, an acquired taste that nevertheless charms everyone who gives it a chance. For a tale of ecological extremism released at the historical peak of eco-anxiety, it’s a resolutely optimistic film, to boot. While it can’t offer clear answers, it has an optimism that I’ve rarely seen Forcier have on or off-screen.
That’s not to say that Les fleurs oubliées isn’t weird. It features the founder of the Botanical Gardens prematurely ejaculating, a Mexican field-hand in a luchador mask wrestling a corporate suit (played with great gusto by Donald Pilon) and an extended sequence in which Roy Dupuis, Christine Beaulieu (who plays his lawyer paramour) and the crust punks all vomit rainbows (a condition brought on by making mead out of cosmic seeds that Marie-Victorin brought back from heaven). The cartoonish, heightened reality has always been a part of Forcier’s work, but it’s also always been the most difficult aspect of his films. Sometimes those aspects are woven in so infrequently that they clash with the rest of the work, but in Les fleurs oubliées, the fantasy conceit is brought in so early and established with such panache and energy that we’re willing to follow him just about anywhere, and he rather readily takes us there.
If Les fleurs oubliées has any real flaws, it’s that it goes in so many directions that a few of its many threads are a bit tossed aside. Marie-Victorin’s complicated unrequited love affair with Marcelle Gauvreau feels perfunctory in its treatment, as do a few of the subplots that I shouldn’t reveal here (to avoid spoilers). It’s a testament to the overall richness of Forcier et al.’s writing — I wanted more of everything — but it does make portions of the film feel scattershot in their attempts to cover so much ground.
It’s a recurring criticism of Quebec cinema that our films are mostly glum and dark, with muted colour palettes and harsh, thoroughly uncommercial subject matter. But Les fleurs oubliées is not only a film of its time, it’s a brash, weird and colorful film by a filmmaker who should, by all accounts, be in the old-man-yells-at-cloud portion of his career. (Our greatest example of this kind of filmmaking, Denys Arcand, even shows up in a wordless cameo as a boat captain!) Yet Les fleurs oubliées is a film about celebrating the younger generation, about having hope in the future… and, you know, a little bit about getting so fucked up on cosmic booze you puke up rainbows. The fact that André Forcier’s films travel so little outside of their native land is probably not something the staunchly separatist Forcier necessarily abhors, but it seems nearly criminal to keep something so strange and so singular for ourselves. ■
Les fleurs oubliées opens in theatres on Friday, Oct. 25. Watch the trailer here: