Set in Montreéal's 30's, an era of political tension, religious devotion and blind obedience to community leaders, Eastland Major is a psychological thriller about a search for scapegoat. This will be the lot of Remouald, a gifted and peculiar man, who will need to face buried horrors in order to confront monstrosity around him.
Shot in English and French, a true depiction of the reality and tensions of the Montreal of the time, Eastland Major will star the polymorphous Marc-André Grondin, who has worked amongst other with Soderberg (Che: Part Two), Jean-Marc Vallé (C.R.A.Z.Y.) and Stéphane Lafleur (Tu dors Nicole - Director's Forthnight 2014).
I want Eastland Major to take the viewer on a journey through the streets and alleyways of a dark and eerie parish of Montreal. The story is set in a period of intense transformation and social change. The aftermath of the Great War is still being felt, through the frightening economic uncertainty and the pervasive desire to forget.
A running motif throughout the film, flames, fire barrels, distant smoke trails, flaming bins as well as buildings aflame give us the sense that much of the urban landscape is smouldering -- either actively burning or about to erupt. And the Fire Brigade is slowly revealed to be altogether more sinister than one might hope, a ubiquitous presence floating through the background of burning city life as if perpetually emerging from slumber. While the homogenous universe of the film is at once brutal and repressive, depictions of violence will be diffused with humour. In keeping with novelist Gaétan Soucy's sensibility, this film speaks of a community's perception that memory is a diversionary distraction that's best avoided.- Director David Birnbaum
THE HEART OF EASTLAND
To understand the director's strong affinity with this story and world, itis important to know David spent his formative years in Montreal in a veryreligious family and community. This gaves him a rare insightinto what a deeply religious and close-knit group is like.
As an adult, David lived all over Canada and to some degree in the US. In2010, while doing research at the Library of Congress, a librariansuggested he read a book by Gaétan Soucy. David soon read everything Soucyever wrote, and decide to adapt the most ambitious work of the author, TheImmaculate Conception.
Over time, Soucy and David got to know each other to the point where theybecame friends. The author read all the screenplay versions, and togetherthey shared their views on cinema, art, and life. Immaculate Conception is probably the most ambitious work of the writer, and also perhaps the only book from which a clear dramatic line can be extracted.And this is something David did with great care, with more understandingof what this story meant than anyone else could.
Montreal after the Great Depression was a place of early mortality for children, and constant danger, including danger with fire, as North American cities had not yet entirely figured out how they should best be built, and factories chewed on workers with regularity. The story is also set in a society dominated by religion; where education was not widespread but left to the priveleged few, selected by priests. It was a society thus characterized by two things: fear and ignorance; a close third being obedience to power in place.In that world, a young boy (Remouald) is different, curious, intelligent, sensitive, and is noticed by the clergy for these traits.
Out of that curiosity for the world he becomes friends with another boy that is quite different. A boy that is more than a bit strange and may very well be a pretty crazy.
It is out of this strange friendship of sorts that a great drama occurs. Because she keeps following him, his sister gets hurt. Something that crushes Remouald, and breaks his link with his mother forever.
Remouald then grows up to become a mere shadow in this conformist city. Working silently as a bank clerk. Taking care of his mother at home; a woman that hates him now. Talking to no one, looking at no one, Remouald has everything of the eternal outsider.
And then, a great fire erupts, Eastland Major as they call it. People in the parish are looking for a scapegoat. Fire Captain Costade seems especially happy to suspect Remouald as the arsonist. Schoolteacher Clementine also seems to believe that only he can be responsible. She has seen Remouald leaving the location of the fire soon after some of her pupils. The same kids that recently made strange lewd drawings. They must be under the influence of Remouald, she implies, who was crushed as a child.
At work, Remouald's Boss, knowing that he already takes care of his mother, decides to give him the responsibility of caring for the niece he was stuck with, and so Remouald cares for Sarah. Sarah is a strange and mute girl fascinated by fire, mute for no reason anyone can tell, and while we consider she might have been responsible for the fire, we soon realize that in her fascination with fire there is a fascination for change, revenge, and oblivion.
As the community leaders are closing in on him, Remouald doesn't really defend himself. But after losing his job because of the allegations, he decides it is time to save someone.
There are obvious "truths" that hide other truths. In the work of GaétanSoucy, as in Eastland Major, characters are presented gradually, piece bypiece. Bonds are formed between them; we enter quietly into theiruniverse, and end up discovering what cannot be seen at first both inthe shadows and in broad daylight. Without falling into gore or horror,old, terrible dramas are revived.
This fascinating type of narrative process is difficult to master. But one can find it in great contemporary storytelling. It can be found in A Prophet, by Audiard, where we discover at the same time as the main character what his real nature is about, as he grows from small bandit to great manipulator. Major contemporary American series, such as Homeland and Breaking Bad alsouse this screenwriting process to keep spectators spellbound. And Canadianmaster Cronenberg also used it in is 2002 film, Spider.I belive there is real interest for such storytelling. Because in a society, and in a time that is revealed every day as ever more complex, these gradualrevelations deeply resonate in people's hearts.
In the 30s, Montreal's territory was still divided into small towns,present day boroughs. Funnily enough, because we are now at the center of ourlittle social circles throught Facebook and the like, everyone in our dayand age can identify with a story describing an event that divides a smallcommunity.
At that time English ruled and occupied white-collar positions. In manyplaces, like City Hall, the French were forced to speak English to work.This created tensions that are still palpable today and which contributeto bring the plot closer to Canadian viewers.
With this story, viewers are transported into a lost dark world that stillechoes today. By feeling far enough from that hard and ruthless realitythey may have vaguely heard about, they will not fear to plunge in it, yetwill relate.
The themes developped in Eastland Major -- hypocrisy, repression ofmemories to protect oneself -- these themes deeply resonate in oursocieties filled with contradictions, either social, ecological, politicalor economical.
In the end, in attempting to save a young girl, it seems it is the very future that Remouald is trying to save. Something we can certainly allcare about.
- Producer Serge Noël