At the height of Jean-Claude Labrecque

Photo: NFB
In the documentary, Jean-Claude Labrecque talks about technique, book some of his secrets.

The gentle voice, but the tone serious — too serious —, Jean-Claude Labrecque does not seem to revel in the role of the interviewee. He is ready to play, of course, except… That man of cinema, which has spent nearly a half-century behind the camera (and not before), is clearly not accustomed to the spotlight.


The discomfort is palpable, especially in the early scenes. The film Labrecque, a camera for the memory, signed Michel The Calves (Hotel, Louisiana), is nevertheless a valuable document of history and cinema. And no, Jean-Claude Labrecque is not a rock insensitive. As for the interview — interviews —, the experienced director of photography and producer sketch a wink, a smile, a sorrow. As if everything had been filmed in real time, and that he would give in.


The impression is strong : Michel The Calves, himself a director of photography before to be a director (as Labrecque), takes us by the hand for a good trip in pictures, words, emotions. Make the portrait of one he considers as a reference, it is back on the early days of quebec cinema, on its implosion, on the scope of the identity.


“When you turn a closeup of a face, you shake a country, you will perceive the country,” says Jean-Claude Labrecque.


His debut as director of photography, Jean-Claude Labrecque the facts from Groulx (the cat in The bag) and Carle (The happy life of Leopold Z). Among his first documentaries is The visit of general de Gaulle in Quebec. The one who claims to have wanted “to make films for the rest of us” has affected both the culture (The night of poetry in 1970, with Jean-Pierre Masse), that the sport (The Games of the Xxi olympiad), and politics (up To the height of a man).


The documentary begins by an explicit tracking shot : we see the rail on which rests the camera, which moves at the pace of an ocean liner in the background, to a Jean-Claude Labrecque standing like a monument. Worn by the admiration and friendship, The Calves book an object film full. Form and content complement each other.


The sound of the engines and live images, as if this life dedicated to the views could not do without the humming, the more reassuring as it is unsettling. The many extracts, The Calves, the films sometimes through the projection booth, sometimes directly in front of the screen.


Labrecque talks about technique, book some of his secrets. In front of an old Arriflex, he admits to having learned to see without aim. He admits to having always made a point of light in the eyes of the actors, for the brightness. He has never sought to impose his ideas, preferring the silence to the discussion.


“Never had difficulty to adapt myself. I said nothing, I was a taiseux. But when you put it all in motion, it worked. I was really ready, ” he says, about his work for Gilles Carle.


The artist still had to be convincing, both from Bernard Landry, about the height of a man, that of the organizing committee of the olympic Games. Michel The Calves has not thought good to testify other to tell the tale. Everything goes through the words and images of Labrecque. And some jewelry for the staging of The Calves, such as the one that brings in its “reference” on the grounds of the olympic Stadium, 40 years after the fact. The man and his genius, simply.


Cinema Cartier

Labrecque, a camera for the memory
★★★ 1/2

Documentary biography of Michel The Calves. With Jean-Claude Labrecque. Quebec, 2017, 94 minutes.

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