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Rolland is a middle-class scrapyard owner living in Montreal with his wife, Berthe, their two children and his shy and reclusive tenant/employee, Ernest. One evening, Rolland's wealthy uncle Arthur pays them a surprise visit and when it becomes obvious to him that the family is struggling financially, he offers them a cash gift. The couple complain that the money is not enough and after an argument Arthur rescinds his gift and leaves. Angry and bitter, Roland and Berthe ask their friends Rosaire and Ti-bi to accompany them later that night to Arthur's secluded country home so that they can have their revenge by robbing him. Unknown to them, Ernest follows the group there and turns out to be a brutal killer. The robbery turns into a nightmare; several people are killed and the house is burned to the ground. The survivors separate afterward but being overcome by greed, they travel towards the same place with the intention of killing each other and taking the money for themselves. Written by
Not only is "La Maudite Galette" one of my favorite films, but it combines style with content in such a unique way that it stands out from other Quebec films, while still remaining uniquely Quebecois. The story in a nutshell is this: a working class Montreal couple is given a cash gift by their uncle. After complaining that it is not enough, there is an argument and the uncle takes back his money. Late at night, the couple, with two friends, goes over to the uncle's house in the country to try to rob him. They are followed by the couple's tenant, a shy recluse named Ernest, who proves himself to be the most brutal of them. Ernest kills the uncle, the husband, and the two friends before burning down the house and running of with the wife and the money. They spend the night in a motel room together, but then try to kill each other, and are separated. Ernest gets into a series of misadventure trying to get to his parent's place so he can give them the cash. When he finally gets there, the wife is waiting for him. This time they successfully kill each other, and in the end, Ernest's parents head for Florida with the money.
Listening to the story, you could mistake it for a forties crime film. Two things however, make the film unique. One is the setting. This film obviously takes place in Quebec. The characters all speak with thick Quebec accents. The music is Quebecois folk music. Unlike Arcand's later film "Jesus of Montreal", these characters cannot be transcribed into any setting. The second aspect of the film that contributes to its uniqueness is the detached approach that Arcand brings to the film. Arcand uses primarily long takes, with long stretches with no dialogue or music. This is almost unheard of in a crime film. Put these two aspects together and you have a very unusual film indeed. The fiery tempers and irrational behavior of the characters contrasts sharply with the cool, calm, matter of fact style of the film. This film might be one of the most brutal I have ever seen. It is certainly not the most violent, it is not even very graphic. But that detached, observational style makes what you see very disturbing. All the violent scenes are done in long shot. It is almost as if you are there, in the film, watching, but you are powerless to do anything about it.
Actually, this film has a lot in common with "Jesus of Montreal", in that they are both scathing indictments of greed. In La Maudite Galette, however the message is much bleaker. There is no encouraging message that if you persevere in the face of adversity that very act of perseverance is enough to justify it. In "La Maudite Galette", greed overtakes and destroys all. The very title of the film literally translated means "that damned money", and the film illustrates perfectly how powerful a hold money has on everyone.
In my favorite scene in the film, Ernest finds himself in a bar with a suitcase full of the cash. A very wealthy looking man, accompanied by a pretty young lady, sees the pathetic looking Ernest and decides to humiliate him. He brags to Ernest about his expensive clothes, jewelry, and car, and states that Ernest could never get a girl like the one he has because he'll never have that kind of money. Without a word, Ernest promptly digs into his suitcase and pulls out a wad of cash. He hands the cash to the man, who, dumbfounded, hands Ernest the girl and his car keys. Ernest then takes off leaving the man with a confused look on his face.
Later the man sends some henchmen to kill Ernest, even though Ernest paid for what he took. This is precisely why the man wants Ernest dead. He would have been less insulted if Ernest had beaten him up and taken the girl and the car without leaving any money. It was the fact that Ernest had more money than he did that insulted the man. It was the money that had the power to make the man want Ernest dead. The way the scene in the bar is played out, in one long take, with the unmoving camera placed at one end of the room and the people at the other, helps add to the humorous, ironic tone by refusing to play up the tension.
Ironically, "La Maudite Galette", while instantly recognizable as a work of genius to most film enthusiasts who see it, could never reach a wide audience either inside or outside of Quebec. The form is much to European to interest most Quebecers, and the content is much to Quebecois to interest a large number of people outside of this province. This is not really such a bad thing however, for it is more important to make a powerful, good film that will effect whoever sees it, than a weak film that millions see but soon forget.
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