'Le Sang du pélican' at Cinéma Le Clap

REVIEW

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Photo: Les Distributions Netima and Productions Dionysos

Le Sang du pélican will be at Cinéma Le Clap (in French only) beginning on March 26.

The QCT does not normally review French-language films, but Le Sang du pélican is an outstanding exception. It will be playing at Cinéma Le Clap in Ste-Foy as of March 26.

The biopic, a blend of fiction and documentary, is the result of 30 years of work by Quebec cinematographer Denis Boivin. It deals with the history of the Ursuline Monastery in Quebec City and the difficult decision the elderly sisters made to move out in 2018. The remaining nuns now live in Les Jardins d'Évangéline, a seniors’ residence in the Beauport borough of Quebec City.
Quebec actor Karen Elkin portrays Marie (Guyart) de l’Incarnation, who founded the Ursuline Monastery in Quebec City in 1642.

Boivin said, “Even though this film took me 30 years to make, my great consolation is to see how … Karen Elkin knew not only how to embody but how to transcend Marie Guyart, to become Marie de l’Incarnation. She followed me 100 per cent in this adventure.”

The movie begins in 2018, when the spirit of Marie de l’Incarnation returns to console the last Ursuline nuns who, due to old age, must leave the monastery she founded over 375 years ago.

During these contemporary meetings, Marie reflects on the major stages of her life: the death of her husband and the abandonment of her son Claude to become a cloistered nun, her departure from France, the founding of the first girls’ school in North America, the reception of Indigenous students, the Iroquois wars, and the political tensions in New France before and after the arrival of the British in 1759.

Elkin explained, “We started shooting in January 2018 to film some winter scenes, continued in the summer of that year and started again in 2019. Scenes were shot in many different places, including in the woods. Some scenes were filmed at the Centre de spiritualité des Ursulines in Loretteville and at the Basilica Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.”

In one very dramatic scene, the modern Marie de l’Incarnation (Elkin) kneels before a crucifix and shouts, “Je refuse! Je refuse!” expressing her anger that the Ursulines had to leave the monastery, and that she would have to give up everything she had accomplished there.

“It was a very rich experience for me,” said Elkin, referring to the time she spent with the sisters at the convent during filming. “I was privileged to have great moments with those incredible women. We [the cast and crew] were sleeping at the monastery, we ate with the sisters.” It was during this time that Elkin realized “that these women were feminists. Before they became Ursulines, they had three options: get married and have children, not marry and be an ‘old maid’ or … become a nun. That way, they received an education, travelled and had a career teaching.”

Quebec City actor David Noël plays the role of Claude, the son of Marie Guyart, whom she abandoned in France as a young boy. He eventually became a Benedictine monk. Noël explained, “It somehow felt that the character of the movie I was cast in was meant to be…. My mother’s name is Karen, like Karen Elkin who plays my mother in the movie. My father’s name is Claude, like the name of my character. At one point, I was on set and I overheard someone ask if ‘Karen and Claude’ were ready and I couldn’t help but think of my parents.”

The title, Le Sang du pélican, recalls the legend of a mother pelican who, during a time of starvation, wounded her breast to feed her young with her blood, but in doing so, lost her own life, symbolizing Jesus, who gave His life to save others. In one of the scenes of the film, as Marie Guyart is crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a ship with other Ursuline and Augustinian nuns, a flock of pelicans flies overhead. 

 

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Actress Karen Elkin stands in front of a wooden sculpture of Marie Guyart in the Centre Marie-de-l’Incarnation, a small museum on Rue du Parloir next to the Ursuline Monastery. The resemblance is uncanny.  Photo courtesy of Les Distributions Netima and Productions Dionysos