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Themes - Film

Léa Pool

Photograph of Léa Pool

Filmmaker, Documentary Filmmaker, Director, Producer, Screenwriter

Léa Pool

Born in Soglio, Switzerland, Léa Pool immigrated to Canada in 1975 to study communications at the Université du Québec à Montréal. She experimented with various media, including short films, documentaries, and television series. Léa Pool made her short-film debut with Laurent Lamerre, portier (1978). In 1979, she made the black-and-white feature Strass Café, which garnered a number of awards including at the Sceaux Festival in France (1981). At this time, she also launched her career as a director with Planète et Eva en transit (1980-1983) a Radio-Québec television series developed by and aimed at cultural minorities. As well as making acclaimed films, Pool listed teaching at the Université du Québec à Montréal among her professional and artistic accomplishments. The filmmaker is known for putting all of herself into her work, infusing her films with her passion and emotions.

The main theme of Léa Pool's A Woman in Waiting (1984) is urban alienation. Wrapped in poetic imagery, the three main female characters wander the city seeking to fulfill their need for identity. This quest for identity is the ultimate preoccupation of the film, just as in Anne Trister (1985) and Straight for the Heart (1988).

The semi-autobiographical film Anne Trister depicts scenes from Léa Pool's life, from her arrival in Montréal at age 25 to her early 30s. This film's main themes are identity, exile and Jewishness. During the film, a troubled friendship grows between two female characters, Anne and Alix. The women are physically attracted to one another, and this attraction is both complex and awkward. The theme of homosexuality is not openly addressed in this film: homosexuality lies just below the surface and is perceptible only through fleeting expressions. Léa Pool prefers to play with her characters' emotions and self-analysis. The film Straight for the Heart, adapted from the novel Kurwenal, by Yves Navarre, tells the story of a reporter-photographer returning from assignment in Latin America. Once again, the world of intimacy is explored. The theme remains secondary to the film's visualization of a slowly disintegrating ménage à trois giving way to a sole voice, that of the man.

From early on in her career, Léa Pool drew inspiration from the works of author Marguerite Duras, which revolve around the same themes: exile, wandering, uprooting, mood and the quest for identity. With her introspective film style, Léa Pool examines her own preoccupations through the self-analysis of her characters. What occurs onscreen encourages viewers to reflect on their own individuality.

For the most part, cinema in Quebec during the 1980s was not created in reaction to the films of the previous generation; rather, it was defined by filmmakers' individual styles. It should also be noted that many Quebec filmmakers of the time were involved in the various stages of the creation of their works; they served as screenwriters, directors, and even producers. Budgets were limited and as a result, filmmakers were forced to adopt a do-it-yourself approach. At the same time, an artistic and commercial infrastructure began to emerge. It was the rise of "institutional" filmmaking, one that was regulated and highly standardized. It was also the time of "cost-effective" filmmaking, with multiple levels of players, where personal documentaries became somewhat marginalized.

Léa Pool does not make "popular" films; her work has often been labelled "women's cinema" or "feminist films." She rejects the "purist" feminist ideology of the 1970s, of the male-female relationship game, preferring a more intimate and non-traditional feminine approach. She sought equal rights in her creation. Standing against stereotypes and looking to individuality, a poetic daily cinema, Léa Pool brings a breath of fresh air to Quebec filmmaking. Her characters inhabit a sweeping, timeless universe; and her on-screen images reflecting the relevance of her vision.

At the end of the 1980s, Léa Pool felt a need to expand her horizons, so she began conquering America with Hotel Chronicles (1989). This documentary encouraged her to stand outside her personal universe, to explore what was taking place elsewhere. The chronology around which this film is structured resembles that of a logbook. The world inhabited by the film's characters lies outside the "day-to-day" and is in a state of disequilibrium and transition.

Léa Pool adheres to the philosophy that every film must have its own signature. In her subsequent productions, she also challenged existing views on the role of filmmakers and the creative process. The 1990s in Quebec were marked, both in documentaries and fiction, by distancing from the Hollywood approach to filmmaking. Artifice and subterfuge are not part of Léa Pool's visual vocabulary. The filmmaker, who has been embraced by European critics, adheres to a purer, more personal path. The Savage Woman (1991), Desire in Motion (1994), Set Me Free (1999), and Lost and Delirious (2001) all reflect the woman's view of the female experience.

In 1991, Léa Pool created a vignette titled Rispondetemi, a segment of the film Montréal Sextet, a fascinating voyage through a woman's fantasy while she teeters between life and death. Léa Pool then directed two documentaries for the bilingual television series Women: A True Story (1994-1996), which address the themes of past and present in women's lives, specifically as these relate to their bodies, power, knowledge, employment and identity. The segments that she contributed to this series were Gender Tango and Postcards from the Future (both documentaries were made in 1996). That same year, Léa Pool shot Lettre à ma fille, a documentary produced for the Musée de la civilisation de Québec as part of the exhibition Women, Body and Soul. Her next project, the documentary Gabrielle Roy (1997), was a reflection of her admiration for Canadian author Gabrielle Roy. This work takes viewers on the long and arduous road that Gabrielle Roy followed in writing The Tin Flute.

Set Me Free (1999) depicts one year in the life of a teenager living through an identity crisis. Léa Pool wrote the script for this film along with author Nancy Huston. Partly autobiographical, this feature film relates the story of Hanna, the daughter of a stateless Jewish father who is an unknown poet, and a fragile mother who works to provide for the family. Individuals' roots and family history are the film's central themes. This film won several awards, including the Special Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival, the Jutra Prize (2000), as well as the Best Canadian First Feature Film, Special Jury Citation, at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival.

Léa Pool's latest film is The Blue Butterfly (2004), a Quebec/United Kingdom co-production. This multimillion dollar film was shot in English and Spanish and later dubbed in French under the title Le papillon bleu. Léa Pool, who, until then, had made repertory films, was aiming to reach a broader audience with this feature. Based on a true story, The Blue Butterfly tells the tale of a terminally ill 10-year-old boy whose dream is to catch the most beautiful butterfly on the planet, the mythic and elusive Blue Morpho, found only in the tropical rain forests of South America.

The personal touch that transpires in Léa Pool's works and her idiosyncratic way of presenting the emotional landscape inhabited by her characters allow her to explore a wide range of emotions. Her films, all of which reflect the same vision, depict an undefined space where the real world and images that humans create of this world intersect. The act of creation entails the need to diversify one's approach and express oneself through films focusing on the private world of people's feelings and relationships that are nevertheless aimed at a broader public. With a film like The Blue Butterfly, the commercial risk is greater. Only the future will tell whether going this route will be economically viable.

Léa Pool has several films to her name and has won a number of awards, both from the press and the public. The list of competitions and festivals in which Léa Pool has taken part is very impressive. Lost and Delirious (2001) was screened at the Sundance Film Festival (in the United States) and at the Berlin Film Festival. Straight for the Heart (1988) was shown in official competition at the Venice and Chicago international film festivals. Léa Pool is represented by the Montréal agency Agence Goodwin. The Internet address for Agence Goodwin is (accessed January 30, 2004).


1978 Laurent Lamerre, portier
1979 Strass Café
1982 Eva en transit
1984 La femme de l'hôtel
1984 A Woman in Waiting
1986 Anne Trister
1988 À corps perdu
1988 Straight for the Heart
1990 Hotel Chronicles
1991 Montréal Sextet: Rispondetemi segment
1991 Montréal vu par... six variations on a theme: Rispondetemi
1991 La demoiselle sauvage
1991 The Savage Woman
1993 Desire in Motion
1993 Mouvements du désir
1996 Femmes : une histoire inédite. Le tango des sexes
1996 Femmes : une histoire inédite. Échos du futur
1996 Lettre à ma fille
1996 Women: A True Story. The Gender Tango (segment)
1996 Women: A True Story. Postcards from the Future (segment)
1997 Gabrielle Roy
1998 Emporte-moi
1998 Set Me Free
2001 Lost and Delirious
2001 Rebelles ou la rage au coeur
2004 The Blue Butterfly
2004 Le papillon bleu


Beauchamp, Michel. "Dossier : [le cinéma des] années 1980." 24 images. No. 47 (January-February 1990), p. 41-52.

Beaulieu, Janick. "Les chemins de Léa Pool." Séquences. No. 170 (March 1994), p. 12-16.

Bonneville, Léo. "Léa Pool." Séquences. No. 137 (November 1988), p. 13-18.

Green, Mary Jean. "Léa Pool's La Femme de l'hôtel and Women's Film in Quebec." Québec Studies. No. 9 (Fall 1989/Winter 1990), p. [49]-62.

Grugeau, Gérard. "Cinéma et exil : entretien avec Léa Pool. L'exil intérieur." 24 images. No. 106 (Spring 2001), p. 16-21.

Lever, Yves. Histoire générale du cinéma au Québec. [Montréal]: Boréal, 1995. Consolidated and updated version. New version.

Loiselle, Marie-Claude. "Dossier : Léa Pool." 24 images. Nos. 56-57 (Fall 1991), p. 42-69.

Marshall, Bill. Québec National Cinema. Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001.

Millot, Pascale. "Georges de la jungle." L'actualité. Vol. 29, no. 3 (March 1, 2004), p. 64-68.

Tousignant, Isa. "Forging New Paths. (Canadian Filmmaker Léa Pool) Interview." Take One. Vol. 10, no. 34 (September 2001), p. 24-26.

Tousignant, Isa. "Humanitarius beautificitus: Pascale Bussières shines in Lea Pool's The Blue Butterfly." Take One. Vol. 12, no. 45 (March-June 2004), p. 8.

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