in the Arlette, the third feature film by Mariloup Wolfe, a fashion magazine director, is asked by the Quebec Premier to rejuvenate his government’s image and take over the reins of the culture ministry. The road will be anything but peaceful for Arlette Saint-Amour, who, with the help of her press attaché, will have to wage a fight for the survival of Quebec books – and prove by the fact alone that it’s not just about young people’s image of loftier mumbo-jumbo that his colleagues in the National Assembly want to pin on him.
This story, which at first glance seems a bit far-fetched, is in a way a true story. Because the screenwriter of the film, Marie Viens, slipped into the shoes of the press spokeswoman for Liza Frulla, liberal culture minister in the early 1990s, for a few years through a curious coincidence in her life.
“I had absolutely no skills for this position, but I accepted. With the introduction of Quebec’s first cultural policy, the reform of the Society for the Development of Cultural Enterprises, and the birth of the Council of Arts and Letters of Quebec, I found myself in the midst of a world in turmoil. It was bubbly. »
However, what Marie Viens has retained most from her time in the National Assembly is this impression of being catapulted directly into the court of Louis XIV every day. “The rituals and decorum straight from another era, the importance of politicians’ looks and image, the monarchical vibe, the pre-determined roles that everyone has to play perfectly… I wanted to translate all of this into a story that would do it being both modern and timeless, that would speak to contemporary issues and what defines the nation of Quebec. »
It all takes the form of a grandiose satirical and critical comedy laced with intertextual tongue-in-cheek humor, in which each character represents an archetype of the royal court and in which the murderous replies are inspired by Rabelais, Voltaire or even Simone de Beauvoir. . Pass to the scaffolding boys clubs and toxic masculinity, the reduction of women to their appearance, neoliberalism and its sacrosanct zero deficit, the corruption and hypocrisy of the political and cultural world.
A loaded scenario, then, that Marie Viens worked on for almost 10 years – and suffered several rejections – before it ended up in the hands of Mariloup Wolfe.
“I was approached just before Christmas, a few days before I submitted a grant application for film projects,” says the filmmaker. I had 24 hours to give my answer. I met Maria. We spent hours discussing his vision, this idea of the National Assembly as the Court of Versailles, all the references hidden in his text. It was so colorful that I immediately had ideas. I also felt like I was the right person to tell the story of a girl thrown into a man’s world. »
Like her Arlette, the director threw herself into the adventure with both feet, without really realizing the magnitude of the challenges she would face. The feature film is notably the first to be filmed at the National Assembly since I admit (The Law of Silence, 1953), by Alfred Hitchcock, a trial that took nearly a year to prepare and negotiate. “It was a real headache, especially in times of COVID, to bring 300 people in while respecting the protocols in place. »
Cinematically, Parliament was both a gift and an immense risk. “It’s a place that’s both austere and grandiose. I wanted to transfer this place that everyone knows into our universe, close the shutters, dim the lights and highlight the details, the flourishes, the extraordinary frescoes on the ceiling. »
The filmmaker did not hesitate to go to the extreme, bringing the extravagance of the sets, costumes and soundtrack to the climax, opening and closing many scenes with expressive and contrasting baroque melodies.
“We had to make the main subject of the film appealing: the Quebec book. Captivate people and make you want to read the story. But the pitfall of satire is to fall into caricature. We also had a larger than life proposal with extravagant visuals, costumes and sets. In order for us to believe in it, we had to find truth and minimalism in the acting of the actors. I was fortunate to have an exceptional cast. »
The controversial election of Maripier Morin
The film shouldn’t be taken out of context either, as Mariloup Wolfe entrusted the title role to Maripier Morin, who put his career on hold in July 2020 following allegations of sexual harassment, physical assault and racism.
Although this choice is controversial, the filmmaker denies taking a stand or sending a message. “I chose Maripier because I felt that the vulnerability and background she brought to the audition gave weight to the character and the words of the film. I never wanted or could ignore what had happened. I saw her at an audition a year after the events, I was told that she was going back to work and I got the impression that we had already been somewhere else. I am not the judge of this People’s Court whose codes I do not know. My openness may have got in the way, as I honestly didn’t think this decision would provoke such a strong and polarized reaction. That said, I’ve made an artistic choice, which I’m embracing. The rest is now up to the public. »
The director also claims to believe in the importance of second chances, she who found herself at the center of a controversy that led to comedian Gabriel Roy’s retirement from public life. In particular, Mariloup Wolfe had filed a lawsuit against him after a post published on Facebook circulated in 2013 in which he alluded to a fictitious sexual relationship of great violence with the main victim. “I followed the traditional process and used the tools given to us – that’s important to emphasize. There is an agreement that has been honored. After that he can do whatever he wants, I wish him only the best. »
Maripier Morin goes in the same direction: The allegations led her to undergo therapy and to recognize her addiction to alcohol and cocaine, among other things. “I made mistakes. I will do more, but certainly not the same. I want to be on a path that allows me to evolve, heal, for myself and for others. I also want to live in an indulgent society. »
“If we don’t forgive people who admit their wrongs and do whatever it takes to change, where are we going? She asks. Nor do I want to become the face of sobriety, the risen one. I do my little business so I, my friend, my daughter and my family, we are fine. »
The actress also acknowledges that her character’s story has allowed her to progress. “I’ve never recognized myself so much in a character. It allowed me to reflect on my relationship to my image and in the eyes of others and to learn to see and appreciate my own worth. »
The film Arlette hits theaters on August 5th.