Given recent discussions on homelessness in Moncton, a new film makes for interesting viewing.
Notre Dame de Moncton [Our Lady of Moncton] is currently playing at theatres in New Brunswick. The film, the second feature film by Acadian director Denise Bouchard, is a lovely reflection on family, both chosen and biological, and treason. It is produced by Moncton-based production company, Bellefeuille Production Ltée.
The main character of the film, Anna, is thrown out into the streets of Moncton by the landlord of her rooming house when she is not able to pay the rent. Recent reports of over 400 people being homeless in Moncton make this situation especially touching. In the winter, Anna searches for places to keep warm all over the city and ends up living clandestinely in the basement of a residential house.
Actress Laurie Gagné plays the main character, Anna, who has lived a tumultuous life of substance abuse and is in financial distress. We meet her at a moment of crisis: she is about to meet the son that was taken away from her almost twenty years before and has just been evicted.
Although she has been active in theatre and television, mostly in Québec, this is only Gagné’s second film. However, she shines in the role of the tortured homeless mother and manages to easily engage the other characters and the audience.
Gagné’s son is played by Thomas Lapointe, a young actor originally from Edmundston, New Brunswick. Given his role as a shy introvert in the film, it is hard to believe Lapointe is better known as a funnyman.
Lapointe toured his home province doing standup with three other friends in June 2022. Having studied theatre at l’Université de Moncton, the young actor made a name for himself on a Québec reality show called “The apartment” from 2020.
Rounding out the cast are two superb actresses and an outstanding cameo.
Frédérique Cyr-Deschênes, also from Edmundston, New Brunswick, is an Acadian actress and singer. She plays the role of Estelle, the barista who befriends both the mother and the son, and becomes Lapointe’s love interest. Cyr-Deschênes’ presence on screen is captivating.
Award-winning Québec actress and writer Louise Turcot plays the role of Victorine, an elderly woman whose husband passes away suddenly. Turcot’s extensive acting experience shows in the confidence displayed in a particularly overt sexual scene of the film. Turcot’s role is filled with strength and fragility.
Acadian poet Jean-Philippe Raîche plays the wonderfully over-the-top — prickly yet compassionate— department store clerk. Although only present in a few scenes, Raîche makes an impact on the scenes where his abrasive personality clashes with the affable Anna.
In effect, Notre Dame de Moncton features stunning writing, subtly weaving tension and other emotions. Screenwriter Mélanie Léger can be credited for a brilliantly unassuming yet thoroughly engaging story.
Léger is a playwright based in Moncton who has written ten plays that have been brought to the stage. She is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker and actress.
The film’s cinematography by John Ashmore makes Moncton another co-star of the film: the Petitcodiac River, the city bridges, the parks, the Notre Dame de Parkton café and the lights of the city at night.
Ashmore’s extensive experience as director of photography in a variety of cinema, television and video projects is on full display in the beautiful details of the shots, whether inside or outside.
A January 2022 article in Québec newspaper Le Devoir opened with this appalling statement: “Let’s be frank: we always await new Canadian fiction series produced in the Francophone regions outside of Québec with a lot of uneasiness…” (my translation).
Notre Dame de Moncton is testimony once again that Acadian artistic production is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, the vibrancy and relevance of the artistic production in this province is quite remarkable and on full display in Bouchard’s film.
Sophie M. Lavoie is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.