(Toronto) With around twenty productions, two-thirds of which are directed by women, Quebec cinema is featured at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). In this 2023 vintage, still popular despite the absence of American stars on strike, the new film by Chloé Robichaud, a regular at the festival, was well received on Saturday. The filmmaker delivers a moving work, carried by the fine acting of Sophie Desmarais.
There were a lot of tears at the Bell Light Box, TIFF’s headquarters in Toronto, on Saturday night. In the crowded room. And also on stage, after the world premiere presentation of Happy Days, in the presence of Chloé Robichaud, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and part of the cast.
Questioned by Norm Wilner, the programmer of Canadian films at TIFF, the Montreal director cried (with joy) in the middle of an answer. Just like its main actress, Sophie Desmarais, moving as Emma, a conductor whose career is on the rise… But her heart is racing. A spectator pointed out to Robichaud that, contrary to its title, her film is more sad than happy… “But its ending is happy, in my opinion,” she retorted.
The emotion still floated when Sylvain Marcel told the audience that he was inspired by his own childhood to play Emma’s father: “I also had a Maurice in my life”, he said, in reference to the violent and toxic father who made his character suffer.
“I love TIFF, because it’s the ideal place to meet the public,” the filmmaker told us before the screening. “Unlike other festivals that are more industry or critical focused. Here, people are put forward. »
Classical music is a character in itself that transports us and makes us enter the head of the protagonist of Happy Days. The filmmaker therefore worked with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, as musical advisor, to give more modernity and realism to her film.
“Me, I find that total art is cinema,” Nézet-Séguin told us, still admiring Robichaud’s work.
“I always told myself that one day I would like to direct a film, but when I saw Chloe and Bradley Cooper work up close, I said to myself that I wouldn’t be able to! There are too many people on set to handle,” he laughs.
Emma also experiences a complex relationship with her father and agent (Sylvain Marcel), who has maintained a sneaky hold on her since childhood. When he is approached for an important position within a prestigious orchestra, his relationships with those close to him will become even more complicated. The talented chef, very in control, will have to let go. To give way to buried emotions and free oneself from the cycle of violence and the unsaid.
Besides Sophie Desmarais and Sylvain Marcel, the cast includes Maude Guérin, Nour Belkhiria, Vincent Leclerc, Yves Jacques, Katherine Levac; without forgetting the musicians of the Orchester Métropolitain, who agreed to play at the request of the principal conductor and artistic director of the company.
“My previous films are more contemplative than this one. Because I wanted to go more into raw emotions,” continues the director.
It is also a film that she says is more intuitive, with which she attempts to take a lively look at the questions of inheritance and filiation, universal themes. “Having a female conductor at the heart of this story gave me an opportunity to do it in a moving and cinematic way. »
“The environment has changed and Les jourshappy bears witness to this new reality,” says Yannick Nézet-Séguin. For example, the place of women on the podium, the arrival of more innovative programs in the seasons, but above all, a more modern, human approach to musical direction towards musicians. The image of the authoritarian conductor, hyper rigid, who terrorizes his orchestra, that does not pass any more. »
Moreover, a sign of the classical revival, in an interview with La Presse, the musical director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York wears electric blue varnish on his nails and royal blue striped shorts. We are a long way from Herbert von Karajan! Nézet-Séguin was also special advisor for the film Maestro, a biographical film on Leonard Bernstein, directed by Bradley Cooper, and presented at the last Venice Film Festival.
The story of Happy Days is divided into three parts, carried in turn by three composers: Mozart, Schoenberg and Mahler. Each composer represents a distinct period in Emma’s life. In the final chapter, the conductor brilliantly conducts the adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth. Emma completely abandons herself to the music and her emotions. All the strength, the beauty, the immortality of Mahler’s music marries Emma’s freedom. And we cry with her.
Happy Days will be presented at the Festival du nouveau cinéma, which will take place from October 4 to 15 in Montreal. The film hits theaters in Quebec on October 20.