“Labrecque, a camera for the memory”: a light listening

Photo: Pedro Ruiz The Duty
Tell, this is what Jean-Claude Labrecque has done for about sixty years.

Formerly assistant to Jean-Claude Labrecque, director of photography, Michel The Calves has made Labrecque, a camera for the memory, a back light, shining on the career of one of the pioneers of quebec cinema. It was met with Michel The Calves in 2016, at the time of the filming of his documentary. With the approach of the film’s release, on the 12th of January, we wanted to, this time, to discuss with Jean-Claude Labrecque, himself a documentary filmmaker, emeritus.


It is in him that we find Jean-Claude Labrecque. Seated, one has a breathtaking view of mount Royal, hedged that day in a thin coat of fog, and almost inseparable from the grey sky. A panorama inspiring for a director of photography, said.


But in fact, how does it feel to be the subject when it was rather used to being the one who shoots portraits ? “I was both embarrassed and happy,” admits Jean-Claude Labrecque. Embarrassed because… well… I don’t know : I used to be behind the camera, not in front, I guess. Happy, because Michel, I know him since a long time, and he knows everything about my work, my movies. It is also an excellent operator [director of photography]. We did a few movies together, and I felt right away a great respect for him, great confidence. “


Enough to let it go a year without calling in question the choices of the director. “It was the documentary of Michael, not mine. Of the time, I said : “Look, Michael, there was a beautiful plan, there.” He responded : “Labrecque, it is I who make the film !” But seriously, it has been easy for me ; I loved it. As Michel has made in my opinion a documentary that is truly cinematic. I am very happy with the result. “


In fact, Michel The Calves was able to inspire a movement, a breadth to the film that is this, a movie, and not a simple story.


As an instinct


The documentary proceeds in a chronological manner. Born in Québec in 1938, Jean-Claude Labrecque developed an early passion for photography, and then to the cinema. After many attempts, he was hired at the NFB at the tender age of 19 years. The catalog of the institution had already more secrets for him.


“I don’t know how that passion is born and developed. The camera, its handling, its possibilities… The cinema, then… I think it was like an instinct. “


Upstream, the artist Paul Vézina was a mentor who taught him to ” understand the light “. “Paul was a painter and a filmmaker. He knew Quebec by heart. He could say with accuracy where was the sun at a particular moment, and that is fantastic. Often, he would take me. It made me discover lots of places in a city that I thought I yet know. Most importantly, it made me aware of the qualities of the light which reigned in every place, depending on the time. It helped me a lot. Paul has painted the canvas that is behind me, ” says Jean-Claude Labrecque.


Then follows a detailed history of the table by someone who, clearly, still loves to tell and has lost none of his talent in the field.


Venerable journey

Photo: NFB
Two accomplices in the shooting, Michel The Calves and Jean-Claude Labrecque

Tell, this is what Jean-Claude Labrecque has done for about sixty years. With a sense of detail, rightly, a sense of the true. In addition to fiction to the accents of truth (The smattes on the bottom of the Grand Dérangement, the autobiographical vultures and its aftermath the years of The dream) and docufictions (The case of Coffin, brother André), Jean-Claude Labrecque is the author of several documentary films, intimate on poets (Félix Leclerc, Claude Gauvreau, Michèle Lalonde, Gaston Miron, Marie Uguay).


He also immortalized episodes lighthouses of québec history (The visit of general de Gaulle in Quebec, The night of poetry, Games of the Xxi Olympiad). He is also At the height of a man, in which he follows Bernard Landry during the election campaign of 2003, and in the footsteps of Maria Chapdelaine, no later than 2015.


As director of photography, innova films become founders, such as The cat in the bag, Gilles Groulx, Claude Jutra, and The happy life of Leopold Z. Gilles Carle, without talking about Between the sea and freshwater, Michel Brault.


“At that time, he has spent a small revolution : we started to make films that spoke about us, who we looked like. From my side, I was always trying to find something different. I attended, in France, the filming of a movie by Godard and I had been fascinated by the methods of the director of photography, Raoul Coutard, a very large. I stayed a week with Anna Karina, and the entire band, but particularly with Coutard. I have observed how it shined. When I came back, everybody was saying that these films were in natural light, but as for me, I knew not. “


Jean-Claude Labrecque applied here, therefore, some of these techniques, it personnalisa. He considered a time to go earn his living, the better, in France, in the present instance, even the United States, but thought better of it.


“I have never regretted my decision, even if work here, this is not a fee. Because I was enthusiastic and happy. “


Recent works, such as The woman who drinks and novena, both of Bernard Émond, bear witness to the visual sensitivity of Jean-Claude Labrecque, who prefers the finesse of the display, even if this means that we do not notice its contribution.


Capture people


The main interested party, the repeats in the documentary of Michel The Calves, to him, one of the fundamental challenges when one wields a camera, it is magic. Know how to recognize it when it manifests, but also have the wisdom to anticipate it. A mixture of luck and foresight, in sum.


Another good passage of the documentary occurs when Jean-Claude Labrecque explained that his camera was initially there to ” listen “. When he was not busy sculpting the light, matter vanishing, it began to capture people, their words. “I would say from 1970 to 1991, my camera is listening on. It was in a spirit of archives. I have met wonderful people… Marie Uguay, dear Mary… “

Some days, it was me who brought [Marie Uguay] to the hospital for his treatments… this Whole series on our poets, it was a desire I had to document the Quebec. By its poets, its politicians, its events and historical figures. Document that it is, here.
Jean-Claude Labrecque

The memory of the late poet died, even though he devoted a documentary, the eyes of Jean-Claude Labrecque is numbered as the mountain nearby. “Some days, it was I who brought to the hospital for his treatments… this Whole series on our poets, it was a desire I had to document the Quebec. By its poets, its politicians, its events and historical figures. Document that it is, here. “


The work of a lifetime.


This beauty-there


The meeting draws to its end. Sketching a half-smile, Jean-Claude Labrecque, the head is turned in the direction of the panorama, which he contemplated for a moment, pensive.


When asked if he is sensitive to the light, he responds without hesitation. “Always, yes. I often take photos, here in the interior, depending on the time and type of light. Even a light grey like today has a beauty of its own. “


After a silence, Jean-Claude Labrecque concludes : “The magic, this is also when one fails to detect, and then to capture this beauty. “



Labrecque, a camera for the memory, Michel The Calves, offered by the national film Board of Canada