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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

TIFF goes to Montreal

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I was content to let the Toronto International Film Festival pass by without any personal involvement — even riding out my way around Yorkville to avoid seeing the desperation of people trying to get into films and producers tying to sell their ideas — until last night when I saw a screener of the new NFB film La Memoire des Anges (The Memories of Angels). It’s a collage of bits of NFB films produced about Montreal and takes us on the most fantastic journey — often from a pedestrian’s point of view — of that city through two decades worth of films.

Like today’s DJs who re-mix and energize contemporary music, Luc Bourdon has created a virtuoso mosaic of stockshots and clips from 120 NFB films to present Montreal of the ’50s and ’60s. Documentary, poetry and essay rolled into one, The Memories of Angels is a singular lesson in Montreal history with its famous figures, symbolic places and ordinary citizens. Without a commentary, the film moves from the red light district to Jean Drapeau, the Jacques-Cartier market, department stores downtown, textile factories and the construction of Place Ville-Marie. We meet Geneviève Bujold, Oscar Peterson, Monique Mercure and Igor Stravinsky. We hear Raymond Lévesque, Jean Drapeau and René Lecavalier. A loving tribute to the vitality of Montreal and a joyous experience for all generations.

The NFB films used are so crisp and sexy and make Canada seem like the most exciting place on Earth. From Jesse Wente’s TIFF write up:

Watching La Mémoire des anges is like reconnecting with old friends and finding comfort in the familiar embrace of shared history. The film is a glorious reminder of Quebec and Canada’s rich motion picture history, and a chronicle of the evolution of the city of Montreal, from its industrial heyday to its time as a stage for the Quiet Revolution and Expo 67. Consisting of more than 120 excerpts from NFB films, it also reveals the vital role the National Film Board has played in the development of Canadian cinema.

In a dark time when our current Prime Minister is taking a battle ax to arts funding in this country, this film comes when it’s needed, showing us how valuable institutions like the NFB were and are in documenting Canada. It’s also a love letter to Montreal. While watching I thought it’s like the cinematic companion to “The 60s: Montreal Thinks Big,” the wonderful exhibit staged a few years ago at the Centre for Canadian Architecture that showed Montreal at the height of its urban powers.

There is one more screening tomorrow (September 7) at the AMC I at 5:30pm. If you’re not in Toronto right now, tell somebody who loves Montreal but is here to go see it. And since it’s an NFB film, it will be widely available after.



  1. You would probably also be interested by this Radio-Canada piece made in 1963 on Parc Belmont (I have an article about it, and other long-gone city amusement parks in Spacing Montreal). I think we take a natural pleasure at revisiting past eras – such movies have the same power as time-travelling machines.

  2. Hello, I live in New York City, Soho, I go to Montreal every year and I LOVE Montreal. Can you tell me how I can purchase a copy of La Memoire des Anges. I can’t tell you how I dream of living in Montreal. Please help me acquire a copy. I may be coming up for October 4th weekend. It’s my birthday and wedding anniversary.

  3. I can’t wait to see this!!!! I am sure a lot of expats in TO would certainly enjoy this. I’d love to hear a report about what the audience was like.

  4. Cecelia, it will be available on DVD via their online store ( but not as soon as October 4. It’s going to have a festival run first, perhaps followed by a theatrical roll-out.

  5. Does anyone know if it’s going to screen at a cinema in Montreal?

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