Born in a white suburb of Quebec, like the one we saw in West of Pluto (2008), Henry Bernadet moved to Montreal in 2014, in the borough of Villeray–Saint- Michel–Parc-Extension, near a creamery in the shape of a pink and blue castle. The same one where one of the characters from his first solo fiction feature film, Les rays gamma, works, which features young people from cultural diversity.
“It’s the same as West of Pluto, but it’s completely the opposite! », says the director, met in Montreal after his visit to the Abitibi-Témiscamingue International Cinema Festival. “We presented the film in Rouyn, in front of an audience of all ages. There was a standing ovation. People needed this movie, I swear! Spectators went to see the young people after the screening, it was magical! »
Choral film taking place over the course of a summer, Les rays gamma is based on three stories, developed in collaboration with Nicolas Krief and Isabelle Brouillette. First there is that of Abdel (Yassine Jabrane), who has difficulty accepting the presence of his cousin Omar (Hani Laroum), whom his parents are hosting during his vacation. Then that of Fatima (Chaimaa Zinedine) and Naïma (Océane Garçon-Gravel), whose friendship will be put to the test due to the former’s bad company. And finally, that of Toussaint (Chris Kanyembuga), who finds a bottle containing a telephone number while going fishing.
“My dream would be that people who talk nonsense about them would see the film. They would see how friendly, funny, interesting, fascinating these young people are, and I think that transcends their identity. Yes, they have a different culture, but we are like them. The goal was to simply meet them. »
After a few years living in a multicultural neighborhood of Montreal, Henry Bernadet wanted to include the people he met there in a film project. In the company of playwright Emmanuelle Jimenez, he explored his neighborhood in search of people and stories. For three years, he met young people from the Georges-Vanier school and gave on-camera acting workshops. He also distributed questionnaires to other young people at the school in order to get to know them better.
“It was so stimulating that I no longer had the choice to make a film. There was so much material that at first, I was thinking of doing a fresco on the neighborhood, which I did, but not necessarily with young people. Then, when I went to Georges-Vanier, I met young, fun-loving people with whom I really developed a bond… even if they looked up to me and there was a cultural gap. It was a bit like with the young people from West of Pluto, strangely. »
In addition to the students in the theater class, Les Rays Gamma includes young people recruited from other schools through workshops and auditions.
“I wanted to see them too. They were really ready to embark on this adventure and they are proud to have done it. The film is a tribute, a poem, a love letter to a neighborhood that I loved,” continues the director.
During filming, Henry Bernadet took the liberty of adding a documentary aspect to certain scenes, such as the one where a young Russian reveals his future plans to Toussaint. To better explore the neighborhood settings, he also included shots of a boy doing parkour and another practicing mixed martial arts.
“When we see young people of diversity in the media, it is because they are sources of problems or victims, it is to talk about poverty, problems linked to immigration or the gang phenomenon, that we touches on a little in the film. Those I have met are serene and experiencing lots of things. Adolescence is an intense period full of paradoxes; each character in the film meets someone and reaches out to others. I wanted to show that there was no way out of remaining withdrawn into oneself on many levels, as an individual, but also as a society. »