The 12 labors of Imelda | I love my grandmother

Shooting short films about his grandmother Imelda, it was to be expected that Martin Villeneuve would one day (March and April) make a movie out of it. Eight years after the release of the first short film that followed the death of his grandmother, is here The 12 labors of Imelda“an almost true story” in which the director … embodies his grandmother.

As soon as he talks about his grandmother Imelda, Martin Villeneuve comes alive. “He was a very theatrical character,” he told us. She really moved. She could be petrified, angry, bitter, hateful at the same time, and at the same time she had a big heart, she was super generous and full of love. It is the paradox between the two that is interesting. »

The first short film he made about her, he shot it a year after her death – in 2012, at the age of 101! – following the sale of his house in Gentilly.

“It was to make my family laugh, I had no claims other than that, there were four of us on the set. My friends did my makeup, I wore his clothes and I spoke directly to the camera. But the film achieved a certain success, beyond my expectations…”

Producer Nicole Robert then proposed that he make a film, but Martin Villeneuve never got the desired public funding, despite the nine versions of his screenplay submitted to SODEC. We can almost talk about 12 works by Martin Villeneuve…

Robert Lepage and Ginette Reno, who both agreed to work with him on the film project, agreed to continue the adventure… on a voluntary basis. Other talented actors (only as volunteers) were added to embody the other members of the family: Michel Barrette, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Antoine Bertrand, Yves Jacques, Lynda Beaulieu and Marc-François Blondin.

“It was love money, says Martin Villeneuve, it is a gift of life. “So with the support of producer Danny Lennon, he made a series of short films that formed the raw material for this (no budget) feature film shot during the pandemic. To thank them, he presented them with an accessory that had belonged to his grandmother. “A way to give them a part of the character” and to “end this cycle”.

N’empêche, la décision d’incarner sa grand-mère, une sorte de Tatie Danielle québécoise, n’est pas un pari sans risque. Le réalisateur n’a-t-il pas eu peur de verser dans la caricature ?

« J’ai voulu me faire plaisir, répond-il. Le personnage de ma grand-mère, que je connais intimement, est fascinant, il m’a beaucoup marqué, et depuis que je suis très jeune que j’en fais une interprétation qui a toujours été communicative. Dans ce contexte, je trouve ça d’autant plus intéressant que ce soit son petit-fils qui la joue. Mon père me dit que lorsqu’il ferme les yeux, il ne peut pas faire la différence entre elle et moi ! »

Jamais Martin Villeneuve n’aurait fait ce film du vivant d’Imelda Turcotte Villeneuve, qui n’appréciait pas tant ses imitations quand il s’y risquait (« elle pensait que je riais d’elle », dit-il), mais qu’aurait pensé sa grand-mère en voyant le film aujourd’hui ?


Le réalisateur Martin Villeneuve

J’ai beaucoup rêvé à Imelda pendant le tournage, et soit elle était en crisse, soit elle était aimante. Et c’était vraiment les deux pôles de ma grand-mère, il y avait une switch on et off, il n’y avait pas d’entre-deux. Donc, je pense qu’elle aurait été fière que sa famille réalise son rêve d’être actrice, mais elle aurait été en crisse, parce que ce n’est probablement pas comme ça qu’elle se voit.

Martin Villeneuve

Denis Villeneuve, son frère, est gentiment écorché dans le film. Dans une scène hilarante, toute la famille se rend au chevet d’Imelda après qu’elle se fut étouffée en mangeant des « carrés congolais » (?), sauf Denis, qui est en tournage à l’étranger… Il s’apprête à « transformer une voiture en poisson », dit-il à son père Jean (Robert Lepage). Son portrait est d’ailleurs suspendu au-dessus du lit de sa grand-mère. Manifestement, Denis était son chouchou… Y aurait-il une rivalité entre les deux frères ?

« Pas du tout, s’esclaffe Martin Villeneuve. C’est fait avec beaucoup d’amour. D’abord, toutes les scènes ont été autorisées par les membres de ma famille parce que j’utilise les vrais noms. Denis s’est rappelé que sa photo était accrochée au mur du foyer de sa grand-mère, à côté de celle de Pipo, le chien. Donc, j’ai imaginé qu’il tournait à l’étranger, et ne pouvait venir. Quand il a vu la séquence [où Imelda dit : “Il a du talent, Denis, mais il ne gagnera jamais sa vie avec ça”, et elle signe un chèque de 100 $ à son intention], Denis cried with laughter. You must know that my brother has a great sense of humor. »


Director Martin Villeneuve

Is everything true in the film? “Yes, replied Martin Villeneuve. The scene at home, the arm-wrestling game that Imelda wins against our cousin Gros Louis, Imelda’s entire journey, her secrets about her youth, her correspondence with Herman Landry, all this is true. There are things I learned from reading letters I found. The only thing that is not entirely true is the outcome of the relationship between the two grandmothers… That is why it is “almost” a true story. But everything else is authentic. »

By exploring the dark and light sides of his grandmother’s character, this film also allowed him to “put a balm on family wounds”, he specifies. With the blessing of his family.

“In its process, the film borrows a bit from family constellation therapy,” he explains. That is, projecting unresolved family conflicts onto others in order to achieve some form of healing. Me, I delved into my grandmother’s life for several years and I discovered many things… We realize that we inherit wounds that are not necessarily ours, that come from the past, but with which we can negotiate. »

Throughout the filming, Martin Villeneuve speaks of “small miracles watched from above”. “Normally a film without a budget is a disaster. There, already departed, I had a spread [bénévole] extraordinary. Then, whenever I needed something, I turned to social media, and I found it! For example, I got a 59 Chrysler Imperial for my grandmother’s car. The same for my uncle André’s tractor, I had 400 suggestions! So, there were many beautiful things like that that happened. »

Martin Villeneuve is a fan of comics – he is working on a TV adaptation of the series red ketchup (by Réal Godbout and Pierre Fournier), which will be broadcast on Télétoon in 2023 – we infer that The 12 labors of Imelda is a reference to 12 labors of Asterix…

“Yes, but they are also the 12 Labors of Hercules, he replied. This is the idea of ​​mythological challenges. What represents a challenge or a trial or an important step in life for an 89-90 year old woman? I wanted to show that it’s not because you’re old that you don’t learn anymore or that you can’t grow anymore. In the last 12 years of her life, Imelda did extraordinary things, which characterized my whole family. »

For better and for worse.

The 12 labors of Imelda is distributed by Maison 4: 3. It will be released in theaters on October 28.

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