(AKA Stone Cold Revenge) 1974, Starring Céline Lomez, Claude Blanchard, Frédérique Collin, Serge Thériault, Gabriel Arcand. Directed by Denys Arcand (Les Productions Carle-Lamy/Cinépix).
As schizophrenic a film as has ever been made in Canada, celebrated auteur Denys Arcand's 1974 debut feature Gina awkwardly bridges the two main cinematic movements coming out of Quebec in the 1970s—the socially relevant drama and the down 'n' dirty exploitation film. Celine Lomez, one of the province's biggest stars and sex symbols of the 1970s, stars in the film as a stripper who gets deadly revenge after she's attacked by a malicious snowsuit-clad gang. Even between politically charged scenes of textile workers being shameless exploited by their bosses, Gina remains one of the sleaziest Canadian revenge epics of the 1970s, a film that simmers in dank pool halls, dirty bars and seedy motel rooms before it explodes into a brutal rape and a shockingly bloody climax.
Gina takes place in Louisville, a rough, blue-collar town in Quebec. Gina (Lomez), an itinerant stripper, arrives in town to provide nightly entertainment at the local hotel. With little to do with her afternoons, she strikes up a friendship with a group of Montreal filmmakers from the government-funded Office National du Cinéma who are in town making a documentary on workers' attempts to unionize a nearby textile mill. But, even from the beginning, both Gina and the documentary crew feel they are not particularly welcome by the residents, and they quickly come under the scrutiny of “Les Pinguins" a gang of rough-and-tumble snowmobilers led by Bob Sauvageau (Claude Blanchard) who begin to bully and intimidate the outsiders.
As tensions soar, things take a turn for the serious—just as the filmmakers finally convince a reluctant interviewee to discuss the factory's exploitation of their workers, they run afoul of the bosses, who pull some strings with the Office National du Cinéma to shut down the project. Meanwhile, after her very first striptease performance, Gina is confronted in her hotel room by the masked snowmobilers who take turns brutally raping her. Emotionally shattered, Gina calls up her booking agent, who promptly arrives in Louisville with his mafia strong-arm friends to lead a bloody siege on a rusted beached cargo ship that the snowmobilers have made their clubhouse.
It's difficult to know where to begin when discussing Gina, a film that uneasily balances earnest, direct cinema political messaging with straight-up exploitation thrills. Having failed to expand the maple syrup porn trend beyond Quebec's borders, Cinépix began focusing on films like Gina, Le Diable est parmi nous and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, mixing steamy sex with more violent and horror-oriented plotlines. Working with Cinépix on the film was co-producer Pierre Lamy, a longtime collaborator of Montreal provocateur Gilles Carle, who also had a hand in the sex comedy Deux femmes en or. Here, he helps Arcand deliver the goods—Lomez had already made her name in maple syrup porn entries like Loving and Laughing, L'Initiation and Après-ski, and her erotic striptease to Michel Pagliaro's "Sky Jack" (the highlight of a terrific, funky soundtrack) is clearly intended as a highlight, even as Arcand undercuts it with a sense of sleazy detachment and foreboding. The climax, too, is notable as one of the most brutal finales in all of Canadian film, as the thugs viciously massacre Les Pinguins, tossing them down the ship's exhaust pipes, running them down in their car and even sending one into the blades of a snowplow that shoots plumes of red-tinged snow into the air in perhaps the first (but not the last!) scene of such a death.
But if the film feels like a disjointed compromise between two competing visions, that's because it probably is. Arcand may do a fine job handling the film's revenge-action trappings, but he was surely more interested in depicting the plight of the textile workers, a topic that he had already attempted to explore in his then-banned 1970 anti-capitalist film On est au coton, In fact, the constant roadblocks that his fictional filmmakers face in the film are based on Arcand's experiences trying to make his own documentary for the NFB. On est au coton drew fire from the textile industry, who protested Arcand's portrayal of the way that workers were treated, and the NFB got even more nervous when they discovered that several FLQ members were interviewed in the film, due to the fresh wounds of the October Crisis. The film wasn't officially released until 1976 but, in the meantime, Arcand took the audio of some of the interviews he had recorded for On est au coton and turned them into dialogue for Gina as a way of getting around the ban.
While Arcand's attempts to bypass the censors may have been clever, Gina, as it stands alone as a film, is problematic. Instead of focusing on the rape-revenge story and smuggling in a dose of well-integrated social consciousness, Arcand runs both plotlines neck and neck, each straining for the viewer's attention and rarely finding common ground. Though Arcand attempts to draw some comparisons between the treatment of Gina by Les Pinguins and the factory workers by their bosses, these connections are either too specious or too heavy-handed (the rape scene, which has "O Canada" playing in the background, is so unsubtle it's almost embarrassing). Instead, these two plotlines only seem to properly converge when the stripper and the filmmakers meet up in the hotel lobby to have breakfast or drink beer.
The result is a film that feels like two disparate ones, neither fully coming together to a mutually satisfying result. Those out to see Cinépix deliver another epic of sex and over-the-top, non-stop violence likely weren't interested in the plight of textile workers, while viewers hoping to catch a glimpse of On est au coton's revolutionary politics may not have been prepared for the film's downbeat and sometimes explicit violence. And perhaps it's Arcand who gets the last word, as his director stand-in must abandon the film and returns to Montreal to work on silly fictional thriller. Arcand may have felt like he was compromising his ideals by making Gina, but the decision to shift to drama was a career-changing and ultimately successful move, eventually positioning Arcand as one of the leading French-Canadian filmmakers of his era. While Arcand no doubt looks back at this early entry's bloodthirsty nihilism with some regrets, Gina remains a flawed but unique film that ranks among Cinépix's most prestigious output following their maple syrup heyday.