Montreal Gazette

Eccentric love story leaves no room for stigma

Chez Lise focuses on mentally ill couple and a saintly caregiver

- bbrownstei­n@ montrealga­ Twitter: billbrowns­tein BILL BROWNSTEIN

Jeanne Pope is a latecomer to the film business. But she has more than made up for lost time. Pope, 52, has had her second film in the past three years selected for the Festival du nouveau cinéma. Her latest, the 90-minute documentar­y Chez Lise, which she codirected with James Galwey, is a touching, poignant love story that takes place in the most unlikely of settings: a low-rent rooming home on the South Shore where a majority of the residents suffer from an array of mental illnesses.

Chez Lise, screening Tuesday and Oct. 18 at the Excentris and in FNC competitio­n, centres on an unlikely couple: Deanna suffers from bipolar disorder and diabetes. Gordon has received a diagnosis of schizophre­nia. They first met as patients at the Douglas Hospital. Though the obstacles to their relationsh­ip are countless, the two manage to maintain a courtship that defies all odds and that brings them a much-needed serenity.

Chez Lise is a reference to Lise Bissonnett­e, the 72-year-old, near-blind, tender-heart proprietor of the rooming house, which is home to 90 residents, including Deanna and Gordon. About the only thing the residents have in common is that they are low-income earners. Lise is almost saintly, treating them as if they were her own children — and though most are near middle age, they still have issues. That kind of compassion is rare.

Deanna and Gordon, as well as Lise, allow the filmmakers to enter their lives and capture both their high and low moments. There are few grey moments in between.

As a consequenc­e, viewers get full and revealing access to a world that is rarely effectivel­y penetrated. In the process, Pope and Galwey are able to demystify many aspects of mental illness and chip away at the stigmas associated with it.

Production values are impressive. All the more so since the doc’s budget was — no typo — $24,000. And all of which explains why Pope hasn’t given up her better paying gig as a massage therapist at a West Island clinic.

Talk about a labour of love. Chez Lise was three years in the making. But Pope isn’t complainin­g.

She is on her lunch break at the clinic, where she has been massaging vigorously the past seven years. “I met Deanna through a friend who was helping her with some learning disabiliti­es, and I fell in love with her immediatel­y,” Pope recalls. “She is such a pure soul.

“Then when Deanna moved to Chez Lise, I realized there was a wonderful film here. Lise is just one of the most extraordin­ary people I’ve ever met, and she gets no government assistance at all yet she cares for all these people who have been forgotten by the system. She is a mother to 90.

“And even though we have finished the film, we still go every second week to visit Deanna, we see Lise, and we’re in constant contact with Gordon. They’re our friends. And they will always be part of our world.”

That’s something else that sets Pope apart from other filmmakers. Her commitment to her subjects doesn’t end when shooting wraps. Such was the case with her first feature-length doc, Dust: A Sculptor’s Journey, which focused on the volatile life and career of late Montreal sculptor Stanley Lewis. This was the culminatio­n of a long friendship with Lewis that began with a couple of short Pope films, Birth of the Smoked Meat and Where’s Stanley? — both relating to the artist. Dust was selected for the FNC two years ago.

Pope and Galwey have started a joint production company, aptly called 2britsabro­ad. Both are Brits who met in the late 1970s in England. “It was the height of the punk scene, and education wasn’t big on either of our agendas then,” notes Pope, adding that both quit school at 16.

Galwey, after leaving school, got a gig washing dishes at a pizza joint and co-founded an experiment­al theatre group. He later travelled through Europe, Indonesia, Australia and the U.S. before finally setting down anchor in Montreal in 1986 and penning film scripts here.

Pope took a different route. After bolting Britain, she ventured off to India, Iran, Thailand and Australia before arriving, with child in tow, in Montreal in 1999 — not far from her old buddy Galwey.

Within days of settling in, Pope ran into Lewis at a second-hand bookshop. Though she had never picked up a camera before meeting Lewis, the single mom decided then and there that she wanted to become a filmmaker and to focus on the sculptor. And so she applied and was accepted as a mature student in Concordia’s renowned film-production program.

Pope graduated a few years later. Her first short, Where’s Stanley, won prizes at festivals in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Her second, Birth of the Smoked Meat, earned Pope and her co-director Zoe Mapp the award for best new Canadian student director at the 2006 Montreal World Film Festival.

“I come f rom the DYOD film school: Do Your Own Docs your way — with a little money but lots of passion,” says Pope, whose next project will deal with another sculptor, a Native American crony of Lewis’s who is living at Chez Lise. “I guess I’ve come full circle now.”

Chez Lise screens Tuesday at 6:30 and Oct. 18 at 5:10 p.m. at Excentris Cinema, 3536 St-Laurent Blvd.

You may have known him as a print journalist, a radio personalit­y, a politician and, yes, a boulevardi­er. But, unbeknowns­t to many, the late Nick Auf der Maur also had a brief and near-brilliant career as a TV host in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He teamed up with his buddy, the late Les Nirenberg, on the CBC’s QuelQue Show, a raucous man-onthe-street spectacle starring the citizens of Montreal.

On Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at Cinéma du Parc, the FNC is presenting An Evening with Melissa Auf der Maur — which is actually something of a misnomer. From the title, some might get the impression that the evening centres on Melissa, the former musician member of Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins and now creative director of an arts centre in Hudson, N.Y. Not at all. The 90-minute presentati­on is devoted to her dad and is composed largely of QuelQue Show snippets culled from her personal archives of decaying VHS tapes she found at his home. A candid and witty ode to Nick’s muse, Montreal, as Melissa describes the program.

The FNC soirée has special significan­ce for Melissa, since it will also double as the second birthday of Nick’s granddaugh­ter, her daughter, River. “It’s a beautiful full circle,” Melissa says in a phone interview. “To celebrate her birthday with this hidden video treasure of Nick and Montreal is so exciting.

“Nick and Les would just stand on a street corner and ask people what they wanted to talk about. They did about 60 shows and it was so cool, so different. But that TV show was also what led my dad to politics. He would hear what concerned Montrealer­s. It was the beginning of his relationsh­ip with the city on a very profound level.”

Melissa feels her presentati­on will also serve as a time capsule dealing with the city at the time of a crucial cultural turning point, at a time when the old world confronted the new world. “Even if you don’t know Montreal, it’s a phenomenal piece of history. But if you do know Montreal, this will make your heart melt and bring back so many memories of what made Montreal what it is today.”

Melissa has an idea that no doubt would have amused her dad: Return to the same street corners Nick covered on the show and ask the same questions he did. “It was a real stroke of genius for a TV show then, and I think it would work as well today.”

An Evening with Melissa Auf der Maur takes place Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at Cinéma du Parc.

 ?? ALLEN MCINNIS/ THE GAZETTE ?? Jeanne Pope and James Galwey demystify many aspects of mental illness in their documentar­y Chez Lise.
ALLEN MCINNIS/ THE GAZETTE Jeanne Pope and James Galwey demystify many aspects of mental illness in their documentar­y Chez Lise.
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