On est loin du soleil
Format: 35mm Colour/Black & White
Runtime: 79 min
National Film Board of Canada
One of the most innovative fiction films of the seventies, On est loin du soleil reflects, through the lives of an ordinary, working-class family in Montreal, the values and principles embodied by Brother André, the founder of St. Joseph’s Oratory. An iconic figure in Quebec who was famed as a miracle worker, Brother André was beatified after his death for his characteristics of simplicity, resignation and self-denial, which are incarnated in the film’s protagonists.
As the film begins, the Bessette family members are grieving the sudden death of Isabel (Esther Auger), one of the siblings, who had risen above the dreary life the rest of the family still endures. Her father Léo (J. Léo Gagnon), a night watchman, is plagued by his fear of the dark, but conceals this from his wife and three sons because he cannot find other work. His son Gérard (Reynald Bouchard) is chronically insecure and unemployed, though capable of almost anything; Yvon (Pierre Curzi) holds a job but lacks courage; Robert (Marcel Sabourin) works with resignation as a janitor; and mother, Marthe (Marthe Nadeau), represses everything, outwardly smiling at the sacrifices she must make and the miseries she must suffer.
As with many other Quebec films of this period – Francis Mankiewicz’s Le Temps d’une chasse (1972) and Denys Arcand’s On est au coton (1970), to name just two – On est loin du soleil emphasizes the effects of the characters’ economic and social positions on their psychology, attitudes, aspirations and frustrations. A rigorously structured film, it broke with the traditions of both documentary and drama to create an extraordinary commentary on one of the motivating myths of Quebec society. Though the life of Brother André is not reconstructed or directly dramatized in the film, the lives of the family members are woven into a social mosaic that reflects his struggle and character – essentially suggesting that every Québécois and Québécoise is, in some fundamental way, Brother André. For many Quebec critics, this film was as significant as Gilles Groulx’s Le Chat dans la sac (1964).