Longtime Quebec film and TV director Alain Chartrand revisits the roiling political landscape of his youth in “Summer Crisis,” whose microcosm of the counterculture and early Quebec separatist movements focuses on a resort town’s hippie invasion circa 1969. While the events and larger historical context depicted probably won’t stir much interest today outside Canada, this capably crafted flashback juggles humor, activist zeal, semi-comic villainy and other elements to enjoyable if not particularly subtle effect.
The story is bookended by a police bust of a communal Montreal hideout for members of FLC (aka the Quebec Liberation Front) involved in recent terrorists acts, including the kidnapping and murder of Quebec minister of labor Pierre Laporte. The majority of the film’s running time takes place more than a year earlier, when the same crew landed in the hamlet of Perce, on the Gaspe Peninsula. The region’s traditional economic engine of independent fishermen has by this point been swallowed whole by large companies taking advantage of debt-plagued locals and buying out their businesses, leaving them with short-term cash but no long-term vocation.
The family of young Bernard (Mikhail Ahooja) is one such victim, forced to sell its boat and other equipment after generations of harvesting local aquatic life. Disgusted, Bernard runs off to hopefully find employment in Perce, which has managed to survive the fishing industry’s demise as a seasonal tourist destination. Girlfriend Genevieve (Genevieve Boivin-Russy) works there during the summer at a hotel run by the town’s second biggest jerk, Numero Uno being Andre (Luc Picard), a pushy gasbag who owns the area’s RV campground. These two big-fish-in-small-pond capitalists are incensed that the beach has been colonized by long-haired youths who seldom spend money but scare the paying visitors with their stoned nightly carousing.
A newly arrived trio of serious hippie types led by Paul Rose (Vincent-Guillaume Otis) have rented a decrepit building that was once a saloon/music hall called “The Fisherman’s House” (which translates in French as “La Maison du pecheur,” the film’s original-language title.) Fleeing Montreal police harassment, they hope to lure the largely apolitical transient population with food and drink, then radicalize them — as well as the angry native ex-fisherman — with demands for improved worker rights at local and national levels. (It’s mentioned that Quebec then accounted for 40% of the country’s unemployed population.)
For a while their only convert is Bernard, who’s got nothing else to occupy him and quickly relates these new friends’ messages of injustice to his family’s plight back home. But his association with Paul soon invites heavy-handed disapproval from Genevieve’s boss, as well as general meddling and physical threats from town fathers led by the obnoxious Andre. The activists’ defeat on this small stage finally hastens them back to Montreal, now ready for more drastic expressions of discontent. (Onscreen text epilogue notes the prison sentences the real-life figures were eventually handed.)
“Summer Crisis” sketches opposing social stratas in effective if perhaps necessarily superficial terms: the variably peaceable and vigilante-inclined area natives; hippies who range from vacantly hedonistic to intolerantly dogmatic; and struggling workers, like Genevieve, who simply want to earn enough to settle down like their parents did. The result suffers the usual pitfalls of attempting to encapsulate a highly volatile, complex era within a conventional narrative framework, but it succeeds better than most, in part because Canada’s 1960s and ’70s flashpoints haven’t been as exhaustively dramatized as those of, say, the U.S. or France. While there are stereotypical and cliched elements here, Chartrand’s palpable personal connection to the subject lends the film a basic integrity that elevates the whole.
Keeping its physical scale in check without ever seeming over-constrained, the lively assemblage is solid enough in tech and design aspects.