The 40 years of the first referendum: nothing has changed, it’s still “comfort and indifference”

Les 40 ans du premier référendum: rien n’a changé, c’est toujours «le confort et l’indifférence»

To immerse yourself in the time of the first referendum, there is certainly nothing such as the famous documentary, comfort and indifference by Denys Arcand.

Also, in our schools, particularly in college, as much in history as in philosophy, several teachers, each year, present to their students.

Joined last week, Denys Arcand explains to us that he has taken “far too long” to make this film : four years !

The production had been launched immediately after the election of the Parti québécois in 1976. The promise of the PQ was to hold a referendum on sovereignty-association in the first term.

Los Tabarnacos

“I didn’t want to make this film at all,” said Arcand about the months that have preceded the decision to embark on the adventure. He wanted to dedicate his project to the tourists from quebec who travel to Mexico.

At the time, there was an agreement between Canada and the country of sombreros to co-fund productions.

“I wanted to call it Los tabarnacos because the Québécois, when they are tourists, it is a good subject for comedy. ”

But the agreement between the two countries is shattered, and him, a freelancer at the time, was ” a little job “.

He allowed himself to be convinced by producer Roger Frappier to follow the referendum campaign and make a documentary.

Except that the government Lévesque has waited almost four years before triggering its popular consultation, focusing on his promise to establish a ” good government “.

Denys Arcand, who had negotiated a flat fee as remuneration, was almost désargenté.

The title explained

But the result is masterful and extremely squeaky. Some Tabarnacos seem to appear here and there. In particular in this scene is striking : on the eve of the vote, may 19, is being held at the olympic Stadium the lounge of the modified pickup truck.

Here it is shown, the “indifference” of the title. “It’s not as if we had felt on the street is that the destiny of the people would change. In fact, a large portion of Quebeckers did not care madly. ”

As regards the first word of the title, it comes from observation of the filmmaker. “What people wanted most was comfort. All the arguments of the referendum, both for and against, always turn about the comfort. “You’re going to lose your pension”, “your pensions will be increased” ! “Unemployment insurance does not exist any more…” there’s even been some discussion about the postage stamps in an independent Quebec. It was distressing, in fact. The level of discussion was very, very low. ”

Look disenchanted

It is this look disillusioned that Arcand poses on the referendum campaign. Review the documentary decades later, this disillusionment even seems amplified, as if the political reality was like ridiculous, like huge glasses in vogue at the time.

For example, there’s this scene where Arcand reassembles the “O Canada” sung at the end of the gatherings policy for the NON sticky end of the hymn sung by the tenors and federalists.

Their mine is serious, and their notes uncertain give this song something of a disaster. “This is one of my favorite,” says the filmmaker.

Without narration, the film, however, gives the word to the thinker Machiavelli (1459-1527), embodied by the actor Jean-Pierre Ronfard, which comes in an anachronistic manner, at the top of a building in the heart of Montreal, declaiming extracts from the Prince to explain the methods of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

At the time, the film is a success, but has also evoked reactions quite ” violent “. An editorial to the Need to condemn him for “contempt of the people” and “defeatism,” recalls Arcand.


On the evening of 20 may, at Centre Paul-Sauvé, where the ” YES “camp cash the defeat, where René Lévesque launches its” next time “, Arcand remembers that he was exhausted and ” sick as a dog “.

A picture of René Lévesque from the documentary.

“I promised at that time never to make a documentary film policy like this. ”

He would have been able to change your mind, if there had been something new in our political life. “But basically, it is always the same gives that varies from almost not. And so, I’ve never so far seen interest returning. ”

The film The Comfort and the indifference is available online at

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