Claude Jasmin,
Pleure Pas Germaine
(Parti Pris, 1965; Typo, 1989)

Pleure Pas Germaine
(Don't Cry Germaine)

directed by Alan de Halleux
(Alliance Atlantis, 2000)

What would prompt a filmmaker to take a great but forgotten 1965 Quebec novel and move it to a set in Europe 35 years later?

Belgian director Alan de Halleux chose to do this with a book that I've always considered the quintessential Quebec novel of the '60s, the successor to Ringuet's Trente Arpents and Roy's Bonheur d'Occasion of earlier generations.

Jasmin's Germaine was written in the language of the people, known as joual, rather than in standard French. It was part of a cultural effort in the 1960s to create the "nation Quebecoise," a nation distinct from other French-Canadians and other French speakers.

It's a tale of the Bedard family's journey down the St. Lawrence, from their Montreal ghetto to the heartland of the Gaspesie -- a voyage of self-discovery and a search for their eldest daughter's alleged killer. It's also an allegory for the rediscovery of heartland Quebec by a people urbanized, deracinated and marginalized.

Only the film industry could take this story and make it about Catalans living in Belgium. It's like setting Huckleberry Finn on the Danube. Indeed, the downriver journey in the original novel is pretty close to Mark Twain (reminiscent too of Twain's use of literary "Americanese").

Other than the updating a generation or two, and of course the slight change of continent, the film stays pretty close to the storyline and cast of characters. Dirk Roofthooft really nails the role of Gilles Bedard, a Belgian loser who makes a pretty useless father. Rosa Renom is equally good as Germaine, no longer a native of Gaspe but now a Catalan living somewhere in Belgium, who wants to return to her home in the beautiful Pyrennees. Gilles agrees to go because he believes he will find the killer of his eldest daughter there.

In the book, the family travels downstream and, as they do, they come together and rediscover family life. One of the main characters in the book is the St. Lawrence River. With this redemption happening, finding out the true identity of the killer at the end is almost an anticlimax.

However, the film (limited by its 90 minutes) takes us through this redemption very swiftly at the end. The final scene turns into a bit of melodrama set in the midst of a spectacular mountain set with a colourful Spanish fiesta happening nearby. In the book, the denouement is set at the spectacular Perce rock, in Gaspe.

Regardless, it's a great plot, and the director keeps it fairly intact, even keeping a few of the details of the journey. (The brother Zotique who has no room in his motel -- shades of the Christmas story are left in but the meeting with a man known to the family simply as "Jesus Christ" is taken out.) Though the Pyrennees are striking, I would have liked to have seen the film set in Quebec, simply for the views of Montreal, the St. Lawrence valley and the Gaspe.

Although Germaine the film is subtitled in English, the superb novel, going into its 40th year in print in Quebec, has yet to appear in translation. (If and when it did, what dialect would you write it in?) The film isn't great, but it's good to know this novel is not forgotten entirely.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 5 March 2005

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