Private financing is a very rare beast in Quebec filmmaking. It’s not unheard of, but it often conjures the notion of vanity funding. Privately financed movies are often thought to be the ones not good enough to get institutional backing. This is either because they went through part of the process and were rejected, or just avoided the process outright. That hasn’t always been the case, of course; there are a variety of factors that may affect funding in Quebec.
But there has never been a disrupting force quite like Netflix.
There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to any enormous disrupting force. Netflix has both the budget and the range of distribution to allow for projects that the SODEC can’t. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that the first Quebec production funded by Netflix is a violent and extremely efficient thriller in the Jeremy Saulnier mold. It’s almost exactly the kind of movie that we don’t see coming out of institutions, and that has less to do with its quality than the so-called expectations of the market.
“It started as a short, then we were asked to write a longer version,” says Guillaume Laurin, who plays the lead role in Jusqu’au déclin — aka The Decline in English. (He’s also one third of Couronne Nord, the movie’s production company.) Of all the faces in the film, Laurin is almost certainly the least familiar. “There was a point where we were going to make the film with another company. But Netflix was very open to the idea that I would be part of the project. There was a real desire to discover new talent. I’ve been doing my thing for a while, but this is definitely a come-up.”
Funding and commercial potential aren’t usually at the forefront of a director’s mind when they discuss their first film. Patrice Laliberté is aware that the status of Jusqu’au déclin as the first Netflix production means things are a little different — and that his approach had to be slightly more pragmatic.
“The goal was always to make a short movie,” says Laliberté after I compliment the film’s trim 82-minute running time. There’s nary a superfluous second here. “The longer a movie is, the more footage you have to shoot and the more that costs. In my head, I thought I’d never have access to millions of dollars to make this movie, so I had to plan accordingly. A shorter movie is one way to do this.
“Another thing that I had to take into account was my own use of the platform,” he adds. “The amount of time I spend skipping through movies on a streaming platform… I’ll take a look at the title, the poster and the running time. I wanted to attract people with a running time. I have this desire to synthesize stories, maybe because I come from short films. A scene that doesn’t move things along? Cut it. I really had this economic approach to the whole thing — straight to the point.”
Antoine (Guillaume Laurin) is a budding suburban survivalist; a father and husband who’s convinced that society is on the brink of collapse. He spends most of his time prepping and training his family for that inevitability. Antoine is taken by the work of Alain (Réal Bossé), a “survival influencer” who teaches tips and tricks on his YouTube channel; Antoine is so taken with Alain’s work, in fact, that when a place opens up in one of the seminars he runs up north, Antoine jumps at the chance to participate.
He soon finds himself in a somewhat secret location alongside several other survival enthusiasts: Marie-Évelyne Lessard, Guillaume Cyr, Marilyne Castonguay, Marc Beaupré and Marc-André Grondin. They all share in the common belief that shit’s about to go south any second. What they haven’t planned for, however, is that shit might go south in the immediate, without the involvement of the society they so deeply fear. When it does, there’s no going back.
“The challenge as early as the writing stage was to maintain a slow burn,” explains Laurin. “We wanted to spend time on the characters and their relationships so we could fuck them up. (laughs) But we needed to feel attached to the characters for long enough. It really starts like a pretty slow and meditative drama, and for a while, you start to believe it. The challenge was to shift the tone in a way that was unexpected, but also organic. From the beginning, we agreed with Netflix that it had to start slow.”
Jusqu’au déclin — or, at least, the first third of Jusqu’au déclin — is very much concerned with current ideas of deceleration and impending societal collapse. It doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the film is a glowing portrait of the survivalist mentality. “Survivalists are consumed by fear,” says Laliberté. “But the whole first phase of the survivalist mentality is great — it’s about being self-sufficient, it’s punk, DIY. You grow your own food, generate your own electricity, you don’t depend on anyone. It’s always incremental, too. No one just ups and buys a bunker. They take small steps, but they’re driven by fear. I think it’s fine, as a way of life; there’s a lot of positive there.
“Where it gets complicated is in phase two,” he continues. “‘Stand your ground’ paranoia. The paranoid thought that society is on the verge of collapse, as far as I’m concerned, is basically pragmatic. It’s mathematics. We can’t require three per cent economic growth at all times — it’s going to go to shit. There’s something pragmatic about that idea. But in the second phase, when you’ve moved on from putting rice in mylar bags to training with an AR-15 to ‘defend yourself against migrants,’ it’s a whole other thing.” ■
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