Athena Tacet | Contributor
Active spokesman on behalf of workers’ rights, Outremont-born print worker Michel Chartrand (1916-2010) became an essential actor in Quebec’s syndicalism’s history from its early days in the 1940s, until 2010, when he passed away. He played a significant role in the 1949 Asbestos Strike, which saw the revolt of asbestos miners, and was soon defined as a turning point in Quebec’s labour and political history.
Often portrayed as honest, brave, stubborn, mouthy and opinionated, Chartrand became the subject of several documentaries, including Manuel Foglia’s last Chartrand Le Malcommode. The film retraces Chartrand’s life, which he dedicated to social justice, freedom of speech, freedom of association, equality of chances and human dignity. Foglia was particularly successful in making the documentary vibrant and human, through the use of black and white video archives, old and new interviews of Chartrand and his friends and colleagues. Thus, even more than the previous documentaries, which also payed a tribute to Chartrand, this one combines simplicity and humanity in a unique and particularly striking manner.
It’s remarkably well-researched dimension provides realism, which reflects Foglia’s strong journalistic skills. Indeed, the journalist-like director gives the voice to others who soon become the only ones in charge of telling the story to the viewer. As well, the documentary never forgets historical details which in turn put the story in its socio-political context.
Chartrand Le Malcommode is a social reportage. Through the story of one man, the film takes us back to the social history of generations of workers in Quebec, a history which is necessary to consider in order for us to understand the current situation. Accordingly, the documentary mirrors the director’s questioning about what is left today from the second part of the twentieth’s century workers’ movements, of which Chartrand is the symbol.
Through his inspirations and Marxist ideology, Chartrand illustrated the international context of the time when capitalism and communism where the two main belligerent ideologies. He would often describe himself as an intellectual pessimist who aspires to become an optimist. This is perhaps this specific dichotomy between cynicism and hope that led him to become one of Quebec’s most prominent social leaders of the twentieth century. Thanks to his struggles and believes, he was able to encounter and develop relationships with revolutionary figures of the time, including Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro. Foglia’s ending close-up, where Chartrand is enjoying a cigar, may also have been a quick and wit reminder of the man’s strong ties to the Cuban leader.
Overall, the film is simple, and deprived of clichés and platitude. It’s both a cinematographic biography and a socio-historical documentary . It provides the viewer with unusual information about a man who was imprisoned 17 times throughout his life; a pacifist man who was also one of the first opponents of nuclear power at the time; a man who never ceased to defend social justice, up until cancer took him away.
Chatrand Le Malcommode (2010) by Manuel Foglia, is a 86 minute-documentary which was screened last July 19, at Parc de Normanville, Villeray (Saint-Michel/Parc- Extension) in light of the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM).