Alexis Martin in Les mauvaises herbes/Bad Seeds
“Everybody loves Tarantino’s or the Coen Brothers’ films, but try making one!” laughs director Louis Bélanger. “I’m curious to see how it’ll do, because it’s really not a movie about pot. It’s a film about friendship, and solidarity. These three people have no reason to be together, but that’s how we unite them.”
He’s talking about the peculiar tone of his newest film, Les mauvaises herbes (opening in French and, as Bad Seeds, in English this week). On paper, you expect a very specific kind of thing. It’s the story of Jacques (Alexis Martin), a gambling-addicted stage actor who flees the city to get away from his very irate bookie, Patenaude (Luc Picard). He winds up in rural Northern Quebec, taken in by a gruff farmer named Simon (Gilles Renaud), who more or less forces him to work on his illegal pot farm.
Simon’s dying, you see, and he’s invested all he has in the world in this big-money crop in order to leave something to his estranged son. Their operation gets an added boost when they “convince” (in much the same way Jacques needed to be “convinced”) a young Hydro worker named Francesca (Emmanuelle Lussier-Martinez) to help out, but Jacques’s city trouble soon rears its ugly head. You’d expect a black comedy full of tough-guy dialogue, Mexican standoffs and idiosyncratic hitmen with particular personal philosophies, but Bélanger draws his inspiration elsewhere.
“You could say that’s one of my trademarks, this mix of drama and comedy, what some people call dramedies,” explains Bélanger. “I think it catches people off guard — both investors and distributors — because people need to pigeonhole films to sell them. It’s either a comedy or a drama, but we tend to forget that there’s a rich tradition of it in all of the Italian cinema of the 1970s, from the Taviani brothers to Ettore Scola — We All Loved Each Other So Much, The Working Class Goes to Heaven, even Il Postino more recently… This is what I drew on. That period of cinema really imprinted on me. Even here in Quebec, films like Le temps d’une chasse or Les bons débarras… the cinema of Francis Mankiewicz was a big influence as well. Ken Loach is one of my idols. Ken Loach manages to mix social consciousness with humour and often drama. It’s hard to work between those two extremes, but it’s no accident.”
Les mauvaises herbes is Bélanger’s third collaboration with actor and dramatist Alexis Martin, after Route 132 and the documentary Louis Martin, journaliste (about Martin’s father). “My collaboration with Alexis is sort of strange because we’re very different from each other,” explains Bélanger. “It’s true that we don’t have much in common — he’s an intellectual’s son from Outremont, I’m the son of a blue collar worker from Quebec City — but we have a similar sense of curiosity. We complement each other. You can’t be too similar to someone you’re working closely with. The other thing is that when I came to Montreal in 1985 and I saw this guy, this young dramatist running the Nouveau Théâtre Experimental who had written all these plays and had this wild imagination, I thought it’d be fun to work with that guy. It took a long time. I’d see him around, we liked each other’s work and we always said we’d work together. It’s a work relationship that morphed into a friendship and not the other way around, though. We became pals in real life, but we don’t like the same stuff, except maybe old rock music.”
“I’d also add this: making a movie is long. It’s a long, arduous task, so you might as well do it happily. Alexis brings that out of me,” he says. “I tend to work ‘within the family,’ so to speak, with a lot of the same actors and crew. This is my fourth movie with Gilles Renaud. I’ve worked with the same crew of people since the beginning, my brother’s done the music for all my films, so I’d say I’m a guy who works within a family. There’s a certain sentimentality to it, too; one of my favourite filmmakers is John Cassavetes. He always surrounded himself with the same people. I love that approach: surrounding yourself with your family and going on an adventure.” ■
Les mauvaises herbes/Bad Seeds opens in theatres on Friday, March 11. Watch the trailer here: