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La pomme, la queue et les pépins

(AKA The Apple, the Stem and the Seeds) 1974, Starring Donald Lautrec, Han Masson, Roméo Pérusse, Jean Lapointe. Directed by Claude Fournier (Cinépix-Rose Films).

Guest Review by Ralph Elawani

La Pomme, la queue et les pépins is one of the most ribald and quotable Quebecois productions in Canadian film history. It may have been miles behind the Quebecois-dubbed version of Slapshot, but it's still notable as an exercise in the fundamentals of degenerating etiquette. It even ended up as a notorious court case, as one of the actors tried to change the film's controversial final scene to salvage his image.

If, as the adage goes, Quebec’s national sports during the 1970s were sex and politics, director Claude Fournier’s productions lived up to the national motto. Although Fournier may be best known for directing softcore films, he got his start as a published poet (along with fellow filmmakers Gilles Carle, Jacques Godbout and Gilles Groulx) and has published a fair number of books, including a biography of René Lévesque in 2011. A memorable and uniquely Quebecois concoction of surrealism and vulgarity, Fournier’s fourth feature goes a step further than its "maple syrup porn" predecessors, Deux femmes en or and Les Chats bottés, by filtering subjects ranging from homosexuality, bestiality, political corruption and erectile dysfunction through the lens of straight-up Balconville zeitgeist.

Like many maple syrup porn entries, La Pomme is stacked with local Quebecois talent--the movie stars teen idol Donald Lautrec, humorist Romeo Pérusse, now-retired Liberal Senator Jean Lapointe, Danielle Ouimet (Valérie herself), humorist Réal Béland, presumably immortal actress Jeannine Sutto (currently pushing 91), Gaétan Labrèche, Francine Grimaldi, Paul Buissonneau and many more. More of a collection of absurd skits rather than a cohesive narrative, the film tells the ill-fated story of Martial (Lautrec), manager of a canine fertility clinic, who is also an ambitious card-carrying member of the Young Liberals and a soon-to-be married bachelor with an ongoing list of mistresses, including one he inseminated who suddenly reappears the night before his wedding.

Whereas La Pomme could have played on a theme similar to Denis Héroux’s 7 Fois par jour, Fournier’s film instead depicts the ups and many downs of a man who, for no apparent reason, loses his erectile capacities precisely as he is about to settle down and enter a monogamous relationship. His wife, Louise (Han Masson), does her best to try and help out, but word soon spreads out amongst her friends and family. Louise tries by all means to get him back to his stallion days, mostly by engaging in various ethnic rituals. Taking pot-shots at the myth of Canadian pluralism, she tries everything from nude belly dancing to martial arts, and from funky dancing with a bare breasted hoochie coochie mama to pushing Martial into an ill-fated man-on-man date with her flamboyantly gay boss Mr. Robinson (Jean Lapointe). Louise even manages to namecheck William Burroughs in an offbeat reference to his novel The Soft Machine.

After truckloads of trials and errors, Martial discovers that the reason for his inability to get it up appears to be the carnation stuck in his buttonhole; a carnation he promised he would wear as long as he is in love with his wife. From top to bottom, an outlandish coup de théâtre...   

Some of the most notable moments come when Louise's brothers-in-law learn of Martial's erectile dysfunction, and these verb-o-matic trash machines offer up most of the film’s quotable lines. For example, Maurice (Réal Béland), her drunken day-labourer relative, spits out the following unforgettable dialogue: ''I’d pay $100 per month for a channel that shows nothing but pussy. Real cunts, people fucking, goddamn it! Not a bunch of fucking fruits! One channel for sports, one for the kids and one for pussy."

The entire film is a collection of such priceless and vulgar moments, filthy asides that to Anglophone audiences might sound like a never-ending symphony of untranslatable French-Canadian jargon rather than swearing. But from a straight-up historical and anthropological perspective, the film highlights the importance and unique approach to swearing that makes up part of the Quebecois identity. Whereas the rest of Canada uses the "fuck" as the cornerstone (if not the apex) of vulgarity, and European cultures often swear against God, such as the French (''Bon Dieu de merde'') or the Italians (''Dio Porco, Dio Cane''), the Quebecois instead use phonetically deformed words derived from religious vernacular. The Quebec people technically do not even swear, but just articulate words such as "Câlisse," "Osti," "Tabarnak" and "Criss'' out loud and sometimes combine them together with a logic that defies grammar. And this is endemic. As someone once said: What is language? It’s a dialect with an army. Looked at this way, La Pomme, despite its mediocre plot and lack of flourish, is much more significant than every single film Fournier has released over the past 25 years.

And yet Fournier also skirts good taste when it comes to the film's preoccupation with bestiality. La Pomme features awkwardly long shots of dogs copulating and references to sex with animals, including one exchange in which Mr. Robinson tells Martial about how his gay friend in New York has trained his Mastiff to sodomize him. That scene would have come off as a fart in the elevator if Martial understood the meaning of "sodomy" (which he apparently does not). Moreover, Fournier goes as far as to stage a Liberal political party gathering in which a hooded minister and his comrades are served a copulating young couple as entertainment, to overheard comments such as ‘‘there’s nothing to it, I've seen a girl with a donkey and an Arab once." Eventually, one of Martial's canine reproduction champions is brought in, only to settle into the corrupt minister's arm instead of the waiting naked girl.

Tossing politics aside after this odd segue, the final scene is perhaps the most incomprehensible part of the film. Although it lives up to certain foreshadowing in Martial’s monologue to one of his dogs, the film's incongruous ending is due to that scene being reshot in a hurry. The Dictionnaire de la censure au Québec points out that La Pomme did not premiere on September 12, 1974, as initially planned. Apparently, Quebec's Bureau de surveillance du cinéma had revoked the filmmaker's visa d’exploitation less than an hour before the screening was supposed to take place and instead, the crowd at La Salle Pigalle was shown François Jouffa’s second-rate erotic film La Bonzesse.

Fournier's problems continued when Donald Lautrec went to the Superior Court to ask for an injunction to alter the final scene in which he overcomes his impotency. He feared that his career would be affected if the audience believed it was his erect penis on screen (keep in mind he was a teen idol during the late 1960s). Although initially turned down by the judge, Lautrec's demand was eventually accepted because of internal pressure on André Guérin, then president of the Bureau, who was already in hot water over recent raunchy Quebecois productions such as Après Ski and Pile ou Face. Four days after the aborted screening, arbitrator Pierre Lamy helped Fournier and Donald Lautrec agree to shoot an altered version of the ending (the shot of an erection was replaced with a zucchini under a blanket), and the film finally hit the screen one week after it was first scheduled. The film now stands as one of the only two known cases in Quebec’s cinematic history, alongside Dušan Makavejev’s 1974 film Sweet Movie, where an actor publicly won the right to have a scene in a movie suppressed or altered.

La Pomme, la queue et les pépins is probably what most filmgoers that came of age in the early 1970s have in mind when arguing that Quebecois cinema is terrible, debauched, mediocre, dirty and depraved. But La Pomme is not pertinent or even funny because of its sexy and incoherent display of frenzied nitwits, it's funny because of all the quotable material at play. It's not memorable simply because of its vulgarity, but because what is depicted is so utterly surreal. Indeed, La Pomme is surreal for the same reason that André Forcier’s Night Cap is surreal, for the same reason that Pierre Maheu’s Le Bonhomme is surreal and for the same reason that Jacques Renaud’s novella Le Cassé is surreal. Directors such as Forcier, Maheu and, more recently, Robert Morin take a bite out of the urban hillbilly stereotype that characterized the average working class Quebecois household until not so long ago.  


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