Synopsis: Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) leaves behind her life at a convent for the wild side of life. Getting a job as a topless dancer, Valerie quickly graduates to becoming a high-class hooker. After amassing a small fortune, she falls in love with an artist, a man who is more-than-willing to overlook Valerie’s sordid past.
eyelights: Danielle Ouimet’s doll-like beauty. the sexy bits. the setting.
eyesores: its aimlessness. the performances. the film editing. the sound editing. the dubbing.
‘Valérie’ is the first Québécois film to break its culture’s sexual taboos. It tells the story of an untamable young woman who escapes the confines of her parochial school for the big city life. There she makes new friends, gets work as a go-go dancer and then as a prostitute. But, when she falls in love with an emerging artist, her new life begins to unravel.
The low-budget Denis Héroux film, which was released in 1969, was a monster hit, raking in over a million dollars at the box office, launching Héroux’s career and making an instant star of Danielle Ouimet, as its titular protagonist. Not bad for a picture that cost a mere ninety-nine thousand to make and was shot in only a month, from September to October 1968.
Its success is no doubt a product of its time: Denis Héroux, with his friend and peer, Denys Arcand, had discovered utter sexual repression in Québécois cinema. They concluded that Québécois cinema would only become mature when it addressed sexuality frankly. And so he took it upon himself to do exactly that with ‘Valérie’ his fourth motion picture.
It broke new ground.
But it’s a crude motion picture: the performances are amateurish, the plot is thin, the tone is inconsistent, the film editing is awkward, the sound editing is abrupt and the dubbing (the film was clearly shot without sound in many if not all instances) is poor. It could only be acceptable at a time when filmmaking was still in its infancy, as it was in Canada then.
There’s of course the no-small-matter of its rather abundant nudity, which was unheard of in Québécois cinéma at the time; ‘Valérie’ luxuriates in the female form, obviously relishing any excuse to show Ouimet or one of her co-stars in the nude and/or in a sexually provocative situation. That alone made the film a must-see, drawing hordes of people to the cinema.
Interestingly, though Danielle Ouimet has a doll-like beauty, with smooth lines and a perfect complexion, she isn’t imbued with the raw sexuality of someone like Brigitte Bardot; she gets nude a lot, and is quite clearly very comfortable in her own skin, but she doesn’t have that quality that makes people’s brains switch off in her presence – at least not in this picture.
Still, she holds her own.
In any event, ‘Valérie’ remains enough of a tease to have made of it a success and a landmark of Québécois cinema; for good or bad, it began an era of more populist moviemaking in the Canadian province, including tons of cheap knock-offs. It’s worth seeing if only from a purely historical standpoint, even if it doesn’t resonate in any particularly meaningful way.
‘Valérie’ is, after all, Québec’s ‘Emmanuelle‘.
Date of viewing: November 13, 2016