(b. July 31, 1929 Maniwaki, Quebec; d. November 28, 2009, Granby, Quebec)
A central figure in the history of Quebec cinema, Gilles Carle created a diverse, rich, complex body of work spanning 40 years that, despite its unevenness, contains several enduring classics. Carle joined the National Film Board shortly after its relocation to Montreal from Ottawa, and along with a generation of Quebec film artists he revolutionized the NFB, changing its approach to cinema. His early work championed ordinary Québécois workers, and his use of joual (a working-class dialect in Quebec) was groundbreaking. He also looked deep into the contradictions of Quebec society with a humanist’s eye. His filmmaking revealed his broad sense of humour, which endeared him to the public and captured the soul of Quebec society while also, at times, revealing its neuroses.
Carle studied at the École des Beaux Arts, McGill University and Université de Montréal. With Gaston Miron and Louis Portugais he founded the publishing company Editions de l’Hexagone in 1953, writing film, television and literary criticism. From 1955 to 1960 he worked for Radio-Canada as a graphic artist and continued to write film criticism as well as novels, short stories, film scripts and plays. He joined the NFB in 1960 as a researcher and apprenticed as a documentary filmmaker before turning a short on a snowplow driver into the commercially successful feature film La vie heureuse de Léopold Z. (1965). The film’s success combined with Carle’s nationalist aspirations soon led him to leave the NFB and create his own production company, which gave him greater freedom to explore subjects close to his heart. In 1966 Carle left the Film Board and worked briefly for Onyx Films before starting his own production company, Les Productions Carle-Lamy, with producer Pierre Lamy.
His early features reveal an artist in search of a style, playing with form and content. After a brief fixation with Godard (Le viol d’une jeune fille douce, 1968), he discovered his own voice with Red (1969) and Les mâles (1970), which dealt with Métis and First Peoples brushing up against modern Quebec society. These and other contradictions of contemporary Quebec provided the core of his work over the next decade and showed an artist attuned to the changes that a rural Catholic province was undergoing as it moved toward becoming a modern, urban, secular society. His undoubted masterpiece of this period was La vraie nature de Bernadette (1972), which engages all of these ideas.
Carle also began at this time to challenge naturalist conventions in his films.
His relationship with actress Carol Laure led to five feature films (La mort d’un bûcheron, 1972; La tête de Normande St-Onge, 1975; Les corps célestes, 1973; L’ange et la femme, 1977 and Fantastica, 1980) that explored society from a female perspective. In the characters that Laure plays, her body is used and enjoyed by men for pleasure, which allowed Carle to explore the themes of exploitation and repression. Laure's onscreen persona became a symbol for Quebec.
As Quebec and its aspirations changed, so too did Carle’s films. By the early 1980s, he embarked on a series of expensive adaptations of Quebec literary classics: Les Plouffe (1981), Maria Chapdelaine (1983) and the television series Le crime d’Ovide Plouffe (1984). Les Plouffe was a major commercial success, winning seven Genies and the Quebec Film Critics Association’s Prix Ouimet-Molson.
Carle returned to documentary filmmaking in the mid-1980s. For the next 15 years he alternated between commercial filmmaking, often casting his new muse Chloé Sainte-Marie, and making a number of fine documentaries that explored subjects as diverse as chess (Jouer sa vie, 1982), the artist (Ô Picasso, 1985) and the devil in North American society (Le diable d’Amérique, 1990). He also made a film to commemorate the 25th anniversary of French production at the NFB (Cinéma, cinéma, 1985). His later fiction features La guêpe (1986), La postière (1992) and Pudding chômeur (1996) are a vague shadow of his best work.
Carle died in Granby, Quebec on November 28, 2009 at the age of 80 following a lengthy battle with Parkinsons. He was given a state funeral. Among the many awards he received were the Palme d’Or for his short film ONF 50 ans (1989); The French Legion of Honour (1995); the Governor General’s Award (1997); the Order of Canada (1998); Le Prix Jutra (2001); and the Order of Quebec (2007).
Film and video work includes
Tout l’or du monde, 1959 (writer)
CF-RCK series, 1959 (co-writer with Marcel Cabay, Marcel Dubé, Claude Fornier et al.)
Le prix de la science, 1960 (writer)
Wilfred Pelletier, chef d’orchestre et éducateur, 1960 (co-writer with Clément Perron)
Dimanche d'Amérique, 1961 (director)
Manger, 1961 (co-director with Louis Portugais)
Les enquêtes Jobidon series, 1962-1964 (co-writer with Marcel Cabay, Guy Fornier, Louis Portugais et al.; TV)
Patinoire, 1963 (director)
Un air de famille, 1963 (director)
Natation, 1963 (director)
Patte mouillée, 1963 (director; editor)
Percé on the Rocks, 1964 (director; writer)
Solange dans nos campagnes, 1964 (director; writer)
La vie heureuse de Léopold Z., 1965 (director; writer)
Place à Olivier Guimond series, 1966 (director; writer; TV)
Jeux de Jérolas, 1967 (director; editor)
Le Québec à l’heure de l'Expo, 1967 (director; narrator)
Le viol d’une jeune fille douce, 1968 (director; writer)
Red, 1969 (director; writer)
La feuille d’érable series, 1970-1971 (co-director with Aimée Danis, Denis Héroux, Jean-Louis Colmant et al.; TV)
Stéréo, 1970 (director; writer)
Les chevaliers, 1971 (director; writer)
Un hiver brûlant, 1971 (director; editor)
Les mâles, 1971 (director; writer)
La vraie nature de Bernadette, 1972 (director; writer; producer; co-editor with Susan Kay)
Les corps célestes,1973 (director; co-writer with Arthur Lamothe)
La mort d'un bûcheron, 1973 (director; co-writer with Arthur Lamothe; editor)
La tête de Normande St-Onge, 1975 (director; co-editor with Avdé Chiriaeff)
Les chevaux ont-ils des ailes?, 1975 (director)
A Thousand Moons, 1975 (director; TV)
L'ange et la femme, 1977 (director; writer)
L'âge de la machine, 1977 (director; co-writer with Jacques Bobet)
Lonesome Riders, 1978 (director)
Fantastica, 1980 (director; writer)
Les Plouffe, 1981 (director; co-writer with Roger Lemelin, Jacques Vigoureux)
Jouer sa vie, 1982 (co-director with Camille Coudari)
Maria Chapdelaine, 1983 (director; co-writer with Guy Fournier)
Le crime d'Ovide Plouffe, 1984 (director; TV)
Cinéma, cinéma, 1985 (co-director with Werner Nold)
Equinoxe, 1985 (co-writer with Arthur Lamothe, Pierre-Yves Pépin)
Ô Picasso, 1985 (co-director with Camille Coudari; writer)
La guêpe, 1986 (director; co-writer with Camille Coudari, Catherine Hermary-Vieille)
Vive Québec, cité française... ville francophone, 1987 (director; writer)
L’ONF 50 ans, 1989 (director)
Le diable d’ amérique, 1990 (director; writer)
Montréal off, 1991 (director; writer)
Miss Moscou, 1992 (director; TV)
La postière, 1992 (director; co-writer with Jean-Marie Estève)
L’honneur des grandes neiges, 1994 (director; writer)
The Other Side of the Law, 1994 (director; TV)
Aventures dans le Grand Nord series, 1994-1995 (director; TV, two episodes)
Le sang du chasseur, 1995 (director; writer)
Épopée en Amérique: une histoire populaire du Québec series, 1996-1997 (director; TV)
Pudding chômeur, 1996 (director)
Moi, j’me fais mon cinéma, 1999 (director; writer)