(In French, On TV, January 2019) As the legend goes, 15 février 1839 is the movie that the lowest-common-denominator comedy Elvis Gratton 2 paid for: Writer/director Pierre Falardeau wanted to make this historical drama but couldn’t scrape together the financing for the project considering its unrepentant separatist viewpoint, and made an audience-friendly film to gather the money to help finance the production of his more serious film. Despite my own objections to Falardeau’s political views, I have to admit that this slightly redeems Elvis Gratton 2. Oh, there is no doubt that 15 février 1839 is a hard-core separatist movie. It studies a politically charged moment in Canadian history, builds an argument about the illegitimacy of English-Canadian rule over Québec and makes martyrs out of its French-speaking characters killed by les anglais. It takes place in a prison over 24 hours, as participants in the failed 1937–1938 rebellion are awaiting execution by hanging. The conclusion being forgone, what remains are scenes examining characters as they face their own impending death. The political argument remains central—as the characters explain why British rule over Québec is illegitimate, they spout the same arguments that twentieth century indépendantistes would re-use to justify the separation movement. But the political argument isn’t the only thing about 15 février 1839, and the film’s finest moments are when we’re back to the characters saying goodbye to the world, talking to their spouses, discussing with their Anglophone jailers and so on. Luc Picard is very good in the leading role, with some assistance by Sylvie Drapeau and Falardeau collaborator Julien Poulin. No matter his ideological conviction, Falardeau directs well and manages some good moments along the way—the execution itself is shot with grace and dignity. I expected the worst from 15 février 1839 and actually got something tolerable, which is more than I would have expected.
(In French, On TV, January 2019) By the time you’re creating a third instalment in a series, either you know enough to make it work, or the entire thing has degenerated in a painful copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy. Elvis Gratton 3: Le retour d’Elvis Wong falls squarely in the second scenario, as it has become a simply grotesque collection of episodes featuring the Elvis Gratton character going through writer/director Pierre Falardeau’s usual pet peeves and comic crutches. This time around, Gratton becomes (with a bit of help from American clichés) a rock star, a cultural sensation and ultimately a media mogul. The pale imitation of the previous two movies’ gags is egregious, and the constant references to then-hip pop and political culture makes the film feel incredibly more dated than many older titles. (Especially in hammering on Chrétien-era Federal Liberals—give it a rest, Falardeau.) While I do share many of Faladreau’s concerns about media manipulation and control, I can’t stand the incredibly blunt and simplistic way he goes about it in this film. The added cabotinage from writer/actor Julien Poulain as Gratton is increasingly annoying and the result is not fun, not funny and not as subversive as it thinks. Elvis Gratton 3: Le retour d’Elvis Wong’s herky-jerky narrative rhythm doesn’t help, and neither does Falardeau’s surprisingly amateurish direction, considering that he was capable of far better. But the Gratton series has always been a cash cow for him, so maybe it wasn’t surprising to see the result of this third instalment.
(In French, On TV, January 2019) Whew, what a movie. The most useful piece of background information in discussing Elvis Gratton II: Miracle à Memphis is that it was a consciously commercial endeavour, trying to capitalize on the success of quasi-legendary Québécois character Elvis Gratton in order to finance writer/director Pierre Falardeau’s next and riskier project, the pro-independence historical drama 15 février 1839. To this end, this sequel maximizes everything that Gratton stood for—more slapstick, more bigotry, more anti-federalist sentiment, more satirical content. The script wastes no time in establishing a broad canvas for the film’s gags—as a resurrected Gratton becomes a media sensation, an American talent manager takes over his career to enable him to become a rock star, restaurant owner, bestselling writer, real-estate mogul, without compromising the essentially small-time vulgarity of the character. It’s really not subtle nor successful: Gags are quoted verbatim from the previous film with slightly more polish, laugh-free sequences are dragged on far longer than necessary, and the political content is blatantly shoved in viewers’ faces. The episodic nature of the plot enables the film to play without much of a dramatic arc, so much so that the film eventually ends with a discussion between director and star/screenwriter Julien Poulin as they ponder how they’re going to end the movie. Their consensus is to blatantly laugh at viewers, which they’ve been doing anyway. While such a scene does get a few chuckles (along with the film’s funniest character; a smart car openly contemptuous of its owner), Elvis Gratton II: Miracle à Memphis is a wild, uncontrolled film that wallows in the same ignorance that it attempts to criticize. Once again, the character of Gratton becomes not an object of derision, but a folk hero of sorts that tranquillizes the masses rather than unnerve them. Faladreau passed away in 2009, and his beloved separatist movement went into a coma shortly afterward, making the political aims of his films look dated and risible at once. But even if you go soft on the film’s political aims (and I am!), the rest of it is usually nothing more than a dumb comedy with lengthy laughs-free passages. Too bad; I do think that Falardeau had what it took to make a truly incendiary satire. In this case, he chose not to…. Maybe he had his reasons.
(In French, On TV, January 2019) I remember seeing at least a part of Elvis Gratton: Le king des kings as a younger teenager—it was, after all, a shared cultural reference in French-Canada, with a few catchphrases going around middle school. No kid back then cared about the political references that writer/director Pierre Falardeau gracelessly slipped in, making sure to associate its boorish idiotic character with federalism: Everyone remembered Gratton acting like a moron and the slapstick gags and the slangy catchphrases. Watching the film now is a bit different—the political text is intrusive and self-contradictory, while the slapstick is cheap and about as stupid as the character himself. It doesn’t help that the film is a fix-up of three smaller films: the first introducing the character in his full reprehensible sexism, racism, small-minded bigotry; the second one exporting Gratton’s humour to a tropical vacation, while he completely misses the point of a dictatorial regime; and the third one bringing together various gags about winter and Christmas. It ends with Gratton’s death and resurrection, explicitly like Jesus. The episodic nature of the three smaller films is made even worse by the disconnected string of slapstick gags. To be fair, lead actor/writer Julien Poulin created a heck of a character with Elvis Gratton, even though the satirical point of the character was often missed by everyone … as is often the case with outrageous satire. The film does have a few laughs, but I can’t honestly say which ones are nostalgic middle school flashbacks and which ones are genuine—the film does have its share of exasperating moments as well, so any assessment of the film has to be properly mixed.