13 March 2021

Claude Jutra's Félix Leclerc troubadour (1959)


Claude Jutra's second and final foray into NFB's Profils et paysages series, this time on the singer and writer Félix Leclerc. This takes us far further even than Jutra's earlier documentary on actor Fred Berry, and any attempt at spontaneity is broken almost immediately at the beginning when we follow the film crew arriving at Leclerc's house in Verneuil: Leclerc says the whole thing is artifical as this is the third time the car arriving at the house and him collecting mail from his box has been rehearsed.

The illusion of reality is broken, and we see the crew (snatches of Jutra himself) unloading their film equipment. Leclerc gives us a conventional tour of the barn with its exotic hens, and then to his study, where a large movie camera makes its way into the room. He has momentoes of his travels around him, including a large letter 'E' nailed to a wall, which he claims is from Jean de la Fontaine's tomb in Père-Lachaise.

Leclerc then sits down and sings two songs: 'Si tu crois' and 'Vieux Bozo'. His wife then shouts that souper is ready, and we go downstairs to see him with his wife and son in the kitchen. The film makers are invited to join in, as if again to break any illusion that this is a 'real', as opposed to rehearsed, situation: it's another lie.

Previously, Leclerc had pretended to phone singer Monique Leyrac to tell her that the crew had arrived. He wants her to act in a clip in one of his songs. Sure enough Monique arrives, but before they make the clip she sits down and tells him that she's read in a magazine that songs are of little value, and she has several questions to ask him, which he answers in song. In the end she says he wins, rips the magazine article up and tells him that the songs contain 'philosophy, fantasy and love'.

She then goes upstairs to appear in the clip, where she is seen in a flimsy nightdress at the window, the film is shot outside where we see birds flying and we are led down a meandering stream. Fittingly, the song is 'Ce Matin-Là', a tale of illusory love. Towards the end, Leclerc sings 'Bozo', a song filled with illusion and disillusionment.

This is some way removed from the average documentary on a personality.

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