eyelights: Danielle Ouimet. its musings on sexual mores. its Montréal locations.
eyesores: its sound editing. its opaque character motivations.
After the tremendous success of ‘Valérie‘, Denis Héroux returned to the same themes for his follow-up film, 1970’s ‘L’initiation’: sexual emancipation. This time, however, he explores the burgeoning sexuality of a much more demure character in the form of Victoire, played by Chantal Renaud.
Victoire is a young adult unlike her peers: though she daydreams of exploring her sexuality, she doesn’t feel ready to be intimate with another person. It’s only when Gervais, the French author of her favourite erotic book, “L’initiation”, comes to town that she dares to have a love affair.
With the author himself.
There’s really not that much to the picture – a lot of it consists of hanging out with Victoire and her friends as they discuss social mores, especially with respect to their views of sexuality. Sometimes they do it on a pier, while swimming and waterskiing. Others it’s while lounging in a sauna.
Topless, of course.
Any excuse for a little skin, really. In fact, the picture begins with Victoire caressing herself while imagining the goings on of “L’initiation”, in one of its many sexy montages. Héroux found many ways to titillate us again, usually through Nadine, Victoire’s sexually-liberated best friend.
Nadine was played by Danielle Ouimet, who has set fire to the screen (and many hearts) as Valérie, but whose raw sex appeal could never be tamed enough to play Victoire. And so she played a twin role in Nadine, while Renaud got to develop her character a little bit before she blossomed.
The rest of the picture consists of Victoire and Gervais’ love affair, which is later complicated by the fact that he’s married – something he admits to readily at the onset. But, before the requisite drama, there is much hanging about with the new couple as they explore the city and each other.
Yes, more hanging out.
One of the nice aspects of ‘L’initiation’ is that it was shot in and around Montréal: so many of the locations were instantly familiar, with others vaguely so. For me, the city was a character in the film as much as Valérie, Gervais, Nadine and Pierre, the young man who is sweet on Victoire.
But, as I watched the movie, I wondered what kind of impact it might have on audiences not familiar with the city. Would it still retain the charm that I invest it with, perhaps out of nostalgia? Or would they find it quaint for a “big city”, or even a little bit grim what with all its grey concrete?
Thankfully, the picture was shot in colour this time, adding to its appeal, but it was still a low budget production, as evidenced by the overdubs and the strange audio editing, in which music cues cut abruptly at the end of scenes. At least Héroux improved his technique since ‘Valérie’, which was worse.
My biggest issue with the picture, however, came in the form of Victoire herself, both in Renaud’s sometimes awkward mannerisms and in the character’s motivations, which weren’t always exactly clear. Why did she not feel ready to be with Pierre? Why was she ready with Gervais? Why did she have doubts?
The characters were sometimes as inscrutable as their sexual identities were transparent. Even Nadine, who was much more carefree and casual, sometimes acted in ways that was bewildering. Why would she give Pierre her key, without telling Victoire? Why would she sleep with another guy in Pierre’s face?
But the worst of it came at the end, when both Victoire and Gervais did a 180 in the span of just a couple hours – right after earnestly telling each other how much they were in love. Suddenly she was at a YWCA, second-guessing something and he was buying a plane ticket to go back to his spouse.
What just happened?
Still, ‘L’initiation’ plays relatively well. Part of its continuing appeal are the frank discussions about sexuality that take place at various junctures throughout; though dated, they are indicators of a gradual shift in sexual mores in Québécois culture at the time, after years of repression.
Audiences clearly connected with it when it came out. Thanks to its predecessor’s reputation, it benefitted from better financing and it instantly drew people to the cinema: ‘L’initiation’ broke ‘Valérie’s box office records, becoming the most successful Canadian film for many years to come.
It cemented Denis Héroux’s reputation in the industry and, while he only directed films for a few more years, he became one of Canada’s greatest producers, making films with directors such as Jean-Jacques Annaud, Denys Arcand, Claude Chabrol, Louis Malle, and many others. He’s a Canadian legend.
But you would never guess from such humble beginnings.
Date of viewing: December 4, 2016