gaétan soucy (1954-2013)

In late June of this year I had been in Montréal, looking forward to another meeting with Gaétan Soucy. Another draft of my screenplay adaptation of his novel L’Immaculée conception (The Immaculate Conception) had been completed several weeks earlier, and I had been eager to discuss the latest iteration with him, as we had done several times before. Regrettably this was not to be. On July 10th I received the very tragic news from his publisher that that the author had passed away without warning. This new reality has naturally reverberated through the project and has transformed it immeasurably. Though the work goes on, the field has become far lonelier without him, without his insight and support. There is now a new and tangible responsibility to respect the integrity of Soucy’s masterpiece now that he can no longer comment on its transformation. This will inevitably remain atop the shoulders of the film throughout its creation. I’ve therefore decided to open with a brief prelude as to the origins of the film, Eastland Major.

In January of 2010 I found myself at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, researching another film project, when one of the librarians there handed me a book. It was Soucy’s most widely read novel, La petite fille qui aimait trop les alumettes (The Little Girl who was Too Fond of Matches). I turned a few pages then consumed it in a marathon session, and then instantly began reading it again from page one. This was my first introduction to Soucy’s universe and I had never experienced writing quite like it; mad and full of fire, yet overflowing with empathy. It appeared to be written by someone in the throes of temporary madness – overwhelmed by the beauty and tragedy of the world, yet with a deep-seated awareness and bittersweet realization that all must eventually leave it.

I promptly went about reading everything I could get my hands on in Soucy’s oeuvre, in both French and in English. I was flooded by these books’ unembellished beauty, their depth, their angling toward to perfection. And, while most of these works seemed to me virtually unfilmable (due to their nature of being first person narratives and therefore dependent wholly on their texts and not their images or stories), I found it strange that no one had yet attempted to adapt his first novel L’Immaculée conception (The Immaculate Conception), which had first been published in English in 2006, shortlisted for the Giller Prize and then nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award. It was considered by many to be his most ambitious and complex work – his “cathedral” as Pascal Assathiany his publisher had remarked. But along with its complexity and ambition, it was also a novel with clearly delineated scene and plot structure, with the eye of its narrator-author floating omnisciently in and out of passages like a camera lens, cutting and dissolving in and out of time. The book seemed to have been written with the cinema in mind.

The Immaculate Conception also appeared to encompass all the themes, characters, and settings that would eventually find their way into Soucy’s later novels, making their overall relationship intelligible. Moreover, it was the book with themes closest to what I had been dealing with for years in my films: children, religion, sex, corruption, and power. This book, in my opinion, was the author’s forgotten masterwork, one of the greatest books to have ever come out of Québec (let alone Canada), and I would make it my ultimate aim to bring this book to the screen.