Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour

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Video still from <b>Le Voleur vit en enfer/The Thief Lives in Hell</b> by Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour

Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour, Le Voleur vit en enfer/The Thief Lives in Hell, (1984), 4:46 min. excerpt from the 19:00 min. original, French with English subtitles

Video still from <b>La Réception/The Reception</b> by Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour

Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour, La Réception/The Reception, (1989), 5:57 min. excerpt from the 77:00 min. original, French with English subtitles

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About these works

Le Voleur vit en enfer/The Thief Lives in Hell (1984)
Distributed by Vidéographe.

An unemployed man who has just moved to a poor neighbourhood films his neighbours' lives in order to convince himself that he is not going crazy. "This is a film that was born because I was on welfare and I didn't have enough money to get by, just an old hand-cranked Bolex and a few old bits of film. So I filmed what was going on around me, without any real plan in my head." When we asked Morin where he found the strange triangular house where the main character lived, he burst out laughing: "I lived there, that was really my house. And the neighbour really was my neighbour. And the title comes from some graffiti I saw written on the door! The surroundings are truly documentary. What isn't documentary is the character... Essentially, Le voleur is sort of my own Rear Window. Except that here the disability that keeps the character glued to his window is welfare" (Boyer et al. 161, 163).

In part, Le voleur is an "existential documentary," a life in progress seen from an unusual point of view. The voices we hear are those of Morin and a help-line worker on the phone; the images are casual glances at the street below. We glimpse the subject's confusion, his veering towards desperation, and the non-life of social-assistance existence.

La Réception/The Reception (1989)
Distributed by Vidéographe.

Ten former prison inmates, one of whom is a cameraman, are invited by an absent host to an enormous, isolated house, where one by one they are killed. A thriller in the style of a psychological drama inspired by Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (also known as Ten Little Indians). "When I made this film I had been asking myself for some time why small-fry filmmakers don't have the right to take famous stories and tell them with 'peanuts'. So I decided to take a well known story and to act it out with people who weren't well known, and to try to go beyond the drama as written by addressing political issues. I wanted to show the soul of a prisoner without it being falsified by prison décor. In other words, I wanted to film the prison in each of us" (Boyer et al. 165).

The excerpt included here shows the dramatic moment of recognition, watching a video cassette found at the house, in which the crime of each character (in fact, the actual crime for which each "actor" had been sentenced to jail) is spelled out for all to know. It is a trigger moment for subsequent interaction of the players and the basis for their mutual mistrust. Christie's "Indians," figurines representing each murder victim in the original story, are replaced by frogs lined up on the mantelpiece, which disappear one by one as characters are killed off. Tension is apparent at once, for we know this is no regular "cast." It's a brilliant device, played out perfectly.

About Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour

The first winners of the then newly announced Bell Canada Award for Video Art in 1991 were Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour, lively evidence of their standing in the field.

Robert Morin was born in 1949 in Montreal, and met Lorraine Dufour when they were students in communications at Loyola College there; they were partners and principle collaborators for ten years, and continue to work together on film projects. Morin began as a photographer, then turned to film in the late 1960s as a cameraman. Gus is Still in the Army (1980) was his first piece as a director, and Le Voleur vit en enfer/The Thief Lives in Hell (1984) the most notable – original – of the early videos.

The Coop Vidéo de Montréal was begun by Morin with Jean-Pierre Saint-Louis, Gilbert Lachapelle, and Yves Chaput, and then joined by Lorraine Dufour in 1977, its official founding date. Setting up a new, independent work model for other cooperatives that would follow, about a dozen members of Coop Vidéo each put $1500 towards the purchase of a portable video recorder and portable colour video camera, among the first on the market. They worked on each others’ films in all capacities at the start, but over the years Morin has tended to be director and cameraman while Dufour was editor and later, producer. Many of the works are signed jointly, for as Morin puts it, “in lots of projects editing is part of the concept. Editing is also directing” (Boyer et al. 21). He continues, “we complement one another rather well in general. I do the scripts and shootings, she does the administration and the editing. Despite the squabbles, I’ve never felt betrayed. On the contrary, I’ve always felt I was in a winning situation” (Boyer et al. 25).

Their works offer a unique junction of fiction and documentary modes; they go beyond cinéma-vérité but remain firmly based in fact. Collaborating with his subjects, Morin felt able to “give a voice to the people whose lives we wished to document” (Boyer et al. 51), what media arts curator Fabrice Montal calls “fictional immersion into the reality of his characters” (Boyer et al. 149). But Morin was also able to push that reality further, all the more when his subjects were unusual, as in Ma richesse a causé mes privations/My Riches Have Caused My Privations (1982) about an aging bodybuilder trying to make a comeback, Le mystérieux Paul/The Mysterious Paul (1983), a portrait of a retired knife swallower, and Toi, t’es-tu lucky?/And You, Are You Lucky? (1984) in which the cast is a family of dwarves. La femme étrangère/The Woman From Elsewhere (1988) is one of their finest works, a “documentary” portrait of Valero, a Brazilian woman torn between two worlds: that of the Yanomami Indians, who kidnapped her when she was a child and with whom she lived for twenty-four years, and the world into which she was born that rejected her as an adult because her children were Indians (Boyer et al. 164). Dufour’s eloquent voice-over becomes the voice of Helena Valero, herself, on the bank of the Orinoco River, musing about what happened so long ago while events of the past are re-enacted before us onscreen. As she says, it was a return to “the beginning of the world.”

Morin and Dufour’s earlier video works are collaborations built up from fragments, in which the story grows as it is shot and is then shaped through editing; with La réception (1989) the story came first (via Agatha Christie) despite the largely improvised dialogue and the unusual cast of ex-convicts. Subsequently, all the works have been scripted, and since Requiem pour un beau sans-coeur/Requiem for a Handsome Bastard (1992), Morin’s much-applauded feature shot on 35 mm film, he has continued to work on large-scale productions. Occasionally, he has produced more personal video pieces such as Yes Sir! Madame… (1984), a self-portrait as Earl Tremblay, “perfectly bilingual, completely schizo” (Boyer et al. 167), where he uses a long voice-over to structure the hours of footage assembled over several years. Morin has said, “For me, good, successful films – and there’s very few in the history of movies – are allegorical or metaphorical in nature, they don’t necessarily speak to you immediately. A good film is a film whose subject is not what you see at first sight” (Boyer et al. 65). For Morin, the use of voice-over offers viewers a particular freedom for interpretation in viewing the work (Boyer et al. 67), comparable to the private pleasure of reading.

In the end, these works are about self-discovery but also about risk: the risk of being misunderstood, the risk of death. Life is short. Morin and Dufour balance fiction and reality to achieve a depth, a longer view, a new chance for change and metamorphosis, seeking ever-greater challenges.

Retrospectives of Morin and Dufour’s work have been organized by La Manifestation internationale de vidéo et de télévision de Montbéliard (France, 1989), A Space Gallery (Toronto, 1991), the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, 1991–1992), Cinémathèque de Toulouse (France, 1996) and Cinémathèque québécoise (Montréal) in 1999. L’Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma (The Quebec Association of Film Critics) awarded Quiconque meurt, meurt à douleur/Whoever dies, dies in pain the prize for best feature of 1998. In 2001 Morin received a career grant offered by Le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (Quebec Council for the Arts) for achievement in a practice spanning over twenty years. Morin and Dufour have been awarded numerous prizes at festivals in Canada and Europe.

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