La petite Aurore l’enfant martyre [Little Aurore’s Tragedy] (1952)

(On DVD, January 2008) If you’re looking for one of the biggest cultural icon of 20th-century Quebec, look no further: This is it. The movie that nearly every French-Canadian has seen at least once on TV, the classic story of an abused child suffering at the hands of her adopted mother in deep rural Quebec. (It’s based on a true story.) I hadn’t seen it in a while and while parts of the film appear quaint today, others have survived surprisingly well. It’s a surprise to recognize megastar Jeanette Bertrand in an early role, and hardly a surprise to remember that the actress who played the abusive mother, Lucie Mitchell, was instantly stereotyped and was reportedly assaulted in real life by people who couldn’t dissociate the actress with the character. Parts of the film are unbearably naive: The plot drivers are obvious, the technical quality of the film is poor, the staging is theatrical, the dialogs are on the nose, the scenes are slapped together (if you want to talk iconic, talk about the stove scene) and the ending reaches an apex of melodrama. But some fine bits still shine through: The outdoor scenes have a really convincing feel to them, the portrayal of an meek priest unable to stop the abuse can be seen as a daring criticism of the then all-powerful clergy, and as manipulative as it is, the melodrama still has a rough and respectable power. Certainly worth another look for anyone interested in French-Canadian pop-culture.

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