From romantic myth to arrested development
Continually rehearsed across an expansive media archive, Jutra’s professional disappointments and personal tragedies have continued to fuel the myth since his dramatic disappearance and death. The Jutra myth has often taken shape as a romantic tale of a brilliant artist misunderstood or down on his luck, a child prodigy whose tremendous potential remained unfulfilled. As a highly visible cinematic auteur, he fits the bill of a suffering (male) artistic genius. He has also been perceived by a Québec sovereignist genealogy as an incredibly talented Québécois artist forced into exile by a society that did not appreciate or finance autonomous Québécois cultural production. Finally, as mentioned above, Waugh celebrates Jutra through a gay liberationist genealogy as an ancestor and martyr of queer Canadian cinema. Paule Baillargeon’s biographical documentary Claude Jutra, portrait sur film (2002) takes up something of the pathos that is integral to Jutra’s shifting myth. Consider for instance the opening narration where the filmmaker voices her impressions of Jutra at the end of his life:
“I knew he wa s a kind of a genius who had been famous, that he had many admirers and friends and that [at the end of his life] he was poor and alone, that he had memory problems. Today, a few years later, I wonder who he was, this man full of shadows who was born in the light?”
In his well-researched but less-than-generous biography, Yves Lever explicitly sets out to debunk this romantic myth. The biographer insists on the filmmaker’s unrealized potential, on his failure to produce a “mature” oeuvre. With this severe assessment, the biographer transposes an established cultural narrative of tragic genius into a discourse of arrested development. Notably, in his closing assessment of Jutra’s legacy, Lever writes:
“The centrality of themes of childhood and adolescence in a number of Jutra’s films lead to this pointed question: how to become an adult? Even today, the quest for maturity persists in debates around national identity” (328).
Here, Lever echoes the discourses of immaturity that circulated around À tout prendre at the time of its release. One of the most in-depth and scathing critiques was written by Denys Arcand, another well-known filmmaker of the Quiet Revolution: “À tout prendre, like the majority of our works of art is the story of failure and flight.” He situates Jutra among “educated and sensitive French Canadian man in his thirties” who are fascinated by “black, yellow, red or broadly ‘foreign” women’.” Arcand goes on to argue that these men are held back by their controlling mothers in a culture of absent or weak fathers (in À tout prendre, Jutra dramatizes his intense relationship with his domineering mother). In their unconscious refusal of white French Canadian women, men like Jutra, he argues, are unable to achieve an “everyday” virile (hetero)sexuality essential to national liberation (97).
Arcand’s homophobic, sexist and racist critique correlates closely with recurring tropes of immaturity that for Robert Schwartzwald have been insistently linked since the 1950s with the failure of Québécois heterosexual masculinity and the arrested development of the nation. For this author, in a context where “the burden of a collective shortcoming haunts the colonized consciousness,” the figure of the homosexual (who is unable to reproduce or parent) marks a “failure of filiation.” Schwartzwald goes on to argue that
“the heterosexual syntax in relation to which the homosexual is a failure is necessarily evocative of the Québécois’ own failure to achieve national ‘maturity’” (267-269).
Lever’s 2016 account is particularly problematic in its collapse of an allegorical account of collective failure or disappointment to a judgment of Jutra himself. In the biography’s early pages, Lever suggests that Jutra was more flash than substance, that he “wanted to be visible everywhere” (12), and that his mediated public persona outstripped his actual cinematic achievements. He also points out that by 1962 (the year before the release of À tout prendre) Jutra had only directed a handful of short films and the telefilm Les Mains nettes (1958). Even so, he had somehow become “a libertarian figure emblematic of creativity, of the auteur who made no concessions, of the cultivated dandy, of the explorer of all kinds of cinema, of the complete artist” (10). Lever insistently links this account of Jutra the narcissistic queer artist to a narrative of failure steeped in homophobia.
Queer theorist Judith Halberstam critiques the “schedule of normativity” that upholds the respectability associated with a middle-class logic of reproductive temporality. She argues that the time of reproduction and inheritance “connects the individual and the family to the historical past of the nation,” and to the “future of both familial and national stability” (5). Hegemonic Québec discourses of progress and modernity exemplify this “schedule of normativity” that consistently foregrounds the linear discourse of an emerging “modern” nation. Judged against normative accounts of individual sexual and social development, queer lives commonly confound the “schedule of normativity,” only to be understood through tropes of “failure,” immaturity, or “arrested development.” A case in point, Lever’s account of Jutra is premised on a problematic discursive alignment of different scales and registers of experience (gender, sexuality, cultural production, and nation). Profoundly flawed for its inability to offer a nuanced understanding of any of these distinct scales, this style of argument is particularly repugnant to a queer insistence on specificity. As Sedgwick argues,
“the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning” that constitute anyone’s gender or sexuality “aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” (1994 10).
I pursue this reflection in the next section, taking up Jutra’s self-avowed “childlike” qualities and his cinematic fascination with children in light of the 2016 Jutra affair. In the process, I continue to untangle the knotted genealogical strands that contribute to Jutra’s stigma and queerness: not only his problematic “queer” erotic fascination with children, but also his “failure” to conform to norms of masculine heterosexual development.
iii. Jutra and the figure of the child
The open secret
Part of the peculiarity of the Jutra affair is that the filmmaker’s erotic fascination with prepubescent boys and teenagers was an “open secret.” As early as 1970, critic and novelist Dominique Noguez refers indirectly to Jutra’s love of boys. This author does not directly mention pedophilia, but his article is prefaced with a pithy quote from André Gide: “They say that I run after my youth. That is true. And not only my own” (40). When the scandal broke in 2016, Paule Baillargeon commented succinctly: “Everyone in the cinema milieu knows that [Claude loved boys]. We know because it is expressed in Claude Jutra’s oeuvre.”She goes on to mention that in her biographical documentary about Jutra, “I made a point to find elements that could tell us that: ‘I love boys.’ I find [the scandal unleashed by Lever’s allegations] a bit hypocritical’” (cited in Lévesque). Presumably, this comment made prior to the testimonies of “Jean” and Bernard Dansereau refers to Jutra’s open sexual relations with teenagers.
Tom Waugh (1981) has convincingly documented the “queer-baiting” that followed Jutra’s audacious on-screen coming out as gay or bisexual in À tout prendre. This queer film scholar has gone on to argue that it was not strictly Jutra’s homosexuality that dogged the filmmaker for most of his adult life, but a far more visceral taboo. In 2006, Waugh argued (almost) explicitly that “intergenerational eroticism” was crucial to Jutra’s “artistic energy,” and that this erotic sensibility contributed to his “anomalous and contradictory position” in the Canadian/Québec film canon (438). Labelled and filed neatly under the category of “pedophilia” by Lever in 2016, this stigma converges around the potent and polysemic discursive figure of the child: the child as innocence, purity and vulnerability, or as potential incarnating the future of the family, of the race, of the nation.
As we return to Jutra’s films in light of the scandal, Jutra’s erotic sensibility was in plain view in Jutra’s work from Le Dément du lac Jean-Jeunes (1948) with its extended homoerotic sequences of boy scouts frolicking in their underpants in a lake. As I trawl through the expansive mediate archive surrounding Jutra, it seems as if the filmmaker consciously or unconsciously left a trail of breadcrumbs that were later retraced and scattered again by umpteen critics, commentators, and spectators. This phenomenon is reminiscent of what Eve Sedgwick calls the “ignorance effects” generated by the open sexual secret of homosexuality:
“Knowledge, after all, is not itself power, although it is the magnetic field of power. Ignorance and opacity collude or compete with knowledge in mobilizing the flows of energy, desire, goods, meanings, persons” (4).
In a queer deconstruction of fixed sexual identities (homosexual, pedophile), Sedgwick’s account facilitates an understanding of the unstable and generative meanings attached to stigmatized sexual practices. At the heart of the “magnetic field” of the Jutra affair is the potent and polysemic figure of the child.
In order to diffuse the retrospective moral panic unleashed by the Jutra affair, I find it helpful to establish the discursive figure of the child as a social construction, a potent signifier of potential or development that makes it available for all manner of adult projection. I take this tack not to deny the realness, vulnerability and singularity of actual flesh and blood children, but to highlight how our perceptions and relationships with “real” children are shrouded in instrumental projections. Claudia Castañeda argues that the figure of the child is grounded in a curious quality of “mutability itself”:
“It is not simply that ‘the child’ is a sign, a category, or representation that can be read in multiple ways. What is distinctive about the child is that it has the capacity for transformation. … This implies that the child is also never complete in itself. It is precisely this incompleteness and its accompanying instability that makes the child so apparently available: it is not yet fully formed and so open to re-formation” (2).
In the case of Jutra, the unstable signifier of the child is particularly volatile. While Jutra’s oeuvre has been celebrated for its sensitivity to children’s experience, his association with children and childhood extends to his highly mediated public image.
In 2011, an anonymous vlogger with the handle “tao8way” posted a video on YouTube entitled “Children of Claude Jutra.” This video is a montage of different elements, some of which are taken from Baillargeon’s biopic: interviews with Jutra intercut with home movies and photographs of the filmmaker as a child, as well as sequences featuring pubescent and pre-pubescent boys from Jeunesses musicales (1956), Mon oncle Antoine, and Dreamspeaker (1976). The video is prefaced by a dedication: “This is my small thanks to Claude Jutra (1930-1986), the Canadian film director who made the films 'My Oncle Antoine' and 'Dreamspeaker'.” The montage includes a subtitled interview with Jutra near the end of his life:
“I’m a perpetual child. I identify with childhood. I don’t know why. Probably because I had an extraordinary childhood, filled with happiness. … On the other hand, I had a lot of darkness that I kept to myself, that I hid. But the blackness came out later.”
Following the trails of breadcrumbs left behind by Jutra, Baillargeon, Waugh, and others, the video also incorporates an interview with Canadian actor Saul Rubinek, Jutra’s friend and collaborator in the latter part of his life.
“Claude protected his childlikeness to a great extent. He wanted to remain a child and his silliness is a result of that … His way of behaving, his way of directing … was to stay a child, to look at the world through childlike eyes, to have a naiveté, to be able to see a butterfly for the first time or an emotion … or a tragedy, without cynicism. […] That’s why he could see what other people couldn’t see.”
Rubinek highlights a way of seeing, a fresh, curious and unsentimental child’s gaze foregrounded in many of Jutra’s films. Returning to some of Jutra’s key works, I trace a mobile gaze associated with the figure of the child as subject of the films’ narration (Jeunesses musicales, Mon oncle Antoine, La Dame en couleurs [Our Lady of the Paints or The Lady of Colours]. This is a reversible gaze that persistently frames the child as an object of desire, identification and other affective projections that are difficult to pin down.
I read this post as a vivid example of queer “retrospectatorship” in the digital age, where “texts of the past, reordered and contextualized, are experienced anew in a different filmgoing culture” (White 197). Patricia White argues that this
“epistemological project of lesbian and gay readings of ‘dominant’ films is not simply a decoding process … Rather, it is an encoding process, a textual re-vision with the reader-critic as subject of its fantasy” (205).
“tao8way” clearly took a lot of time to splice together fragments of Jutra’s films and an expansive media archive surrounding him. The result is a video that distils and relays recognizable representations of the child and associated ways of looking with and at children. Home movie footage and photographs of Jutra as a small child are edited together with interview segments and lush homoerotic sequences featuring boys and teenagers in a manner that confounds the distinctions between “Claude” and young boys as subject and object of the camera. What emerges is a reversible homoerotic and autoerotic gaze that fixes and caresses the beauty of the smooth faces of prepubescent boys, their young bodies in motion, their close physical proximity to and homosocial interactions with other boys and men.
|Boys’s face bathed in natural light: stills from Le Dément du lac Jean-Jeunes (1948) and Rouli-roulant [The Devil’s Toy] (1966)|
When I came across this video online, I was struck by the way that it distils a certain quality of looking and being looked at recognizable with variations across Jutra’s oeuvre. With this recognition came the uncomfortable realization of my own pleasure and complicity as I investigate Jutra’s exploration of visual codes for representing and looking at children. While some of these codes are palpably rooted in homoerotic visual culture, they are also familiar as part of a visual iconography of childhood. In a comment posted online in response to the 2016 letter to the editor of Le Devoir by the “committee of the wise,” a reader named Pierre Lefebvre writes:
“Do you remember when [Jutra] pushes against the boy’s shoulder in one of the films? I will never see it in the same way again. [A gesture that] seemed to be perfectly banal is now tarnished by what we have learned” (Coupal et al).
While Jutra’s films have been celebrated for their sensitive depictions of children and teenagers, this reader is disturbed to perceive that an intergenerational erotic sensibility is part of a common cultural legacy.
Kathryn Bond Stockton argues that moral panics around homosexual “influence” or sexual predilection for children paradoxically cement recurring correlations between homosexuality and childhood (3). In the 20th “century of child” she suggests that a historically specific sentimental fixation on the innocence and purity of children conjures its opposite, violence and sexual depravation. Stockton’s attention to the persistent association between homosexuals, arrested development, queer masculinity, perverse sexuality and children is useful for understanding otherwise Jutra’s vexed public persona. Stockton draws on James Kincaid’s work on erotic innocence to argue that the child’s exquisite ‘vacancy’ enables multiple projections by adults. These projections include variations of identification (idealization) and (vilified and disavowed) desire associated with the cinematic gaze. Breaking down the insistent binary opposing the abject figure of the child molester and the idealized figure of the innocent child-victim, this analysis opens toward grey zones of power, consent, children’s sensuality and eroticism at the heart of the Jutra affair.
In the film analysis that follows, I explore the polysemic meanings and affects attached to the figure of the child in some of Jutra’s works. I begin with two early works from 1956, Jeunesses musicales and Pierrot des bois. Next, I turn to Comment savoir, and Rouli-roulant [The Devil’s Toy], two NFB productions from 1966. Finally, I look at two of Jutra’s later features featuring children, Mon oncle Antoine and La Dame en couleurs. Threaded through these readings are accounts of the films’ contexts of production, and an attention to their sociocultural anchorage in shifting historical discourses surrounding children and youth in Quebec.
Two works from 1956: Jeunesses musicales and Pierrot des bois.
One of Jutra’s first films produced at the NFB, Jeunesses musicales, helped to establish him as a professional filmmaker. This 43-minute NFB documentary was commissioned to publicize the programme of the same name designed to introduce young people to classical music. Like Comment savoir and Rouli-roulant produced a decade later, Jeunesses musicales has attracted only cursory critical attention. I return to these three documentaries here in order to explore Jutra’s treatment of themes of children and youth during the 1950s and 1960s. These NFB documentaries are also of interest for the socio-historical discourses surrounding youth embedded in them as “official” productions of the NFB as a Canadian federal government institution. The NFB had an educational mandate with a particular emphasis on youth in the postwar period, and Zoë Druick argues that its films of the 1950s project “narratives of ideal citizenship” (23).
Jeunesses musicales also corresponds with changing discourses of youth in Québec from the 1940s, where a rural communitarian society changed fundamentally through intensified urbanization and industrialization. Madeleine Gauthier argues that the 1950s marked the beginning of a modern discourse of “youth” as a distinct and idealized category. Alongside a widespread post-war Baby Boom, Québec saw a particular surge in its birth rate associated with the revanche des berceaux (revenge of the cradles), in a context where high birthrates were encouraged by the Catholic Church and a francophone elite as a form of resistance to English colonization. While this popular lore has been subsequently challenged, it encapsulates something of the symbolic importance of white Francophone children as a form of demographic resistance ensuring the future of a Québec sovereign nation.
With a nod to Berlin: symphony of a Great City (Ruttman 1927), Jutra prefaces Jeunesses musicales with a modernist montage that celebrates Montréal as a modern city of the mid-1950s. The film’s opening credit montage begins with aerial footage of the city of Montréal accompanied by a soundtrack that mixes the sounds of an orchestra warming up with the sounds of the city. At the end of the credit sequence, there is a close-up of a bellowing factory steam, then aerial footage of children screaming with joy and running pell mell out of a school, through the school yard, and into the street. This sound and image montage continues with footage of jet planes in formation racing against the sky, a tilted close-up on a record player, young people dancing, young men in a café, and a woman in a flashy convertible honking her horn. Next, a slightly longer sequence begins with an aerial shot of a young boy walking slowly along a canal, trailing his finger along the wall beside him. We hear a siren in the distance as the film cuts to a close-up of the boy who turns around to listen. With this stylish opening, we see Jutra the cinephile testing the possibilities of institutional documentary film language of the period.
In contrast with the opening city sequences and subsequent footage where established musicians perform for youthful audiences, the film’s second half unfolds in the idyllic setting of the Jeunesses musicales music camp at Mount Orford provincial park. The film language here is contemplative, with a pacing of image and sound that facilitates savouring the music and the scenery. A series of intimate vignettes frame youthful musicians performing against the mountainous and forested backdrop of the park. First, a string quartet of young musicians playing a Haydn number in a forest clearing against a backdrop of cedars. Another vignette features a woodwind trio performing a number by Mozart in an idyllic sun-dappled clearing by a stream that flows into a pond; two young men on bassoon and flute are placed on either side of a young woman playing the oboe seated on a rock beside the pond. They are dressed in light colours that stand out against the textured black and white environment of trees, rocks, and water. These sequences are intercut with group scenes where the young musicians exchange among themselves and with resident instructors in an environment of collaborative and spontaneous learning. The impressionistic canvas of Jeunesses musicales offers a romantic view of youth as a privileged period of sensitivity, vitality and purity.
As the title suggests, Jeunesses musicales features an ensemble cast, but Jutra singles out a gifted twelve-year-old pianist among the other young people with an attentive, rapturous camera. Jutra returns again and again to the small figure, face and hands of Michel Dussault, the handsome twelve-year-old boy featured in the opening montage. We see him daydreaming in school, in the audience of young people listening to a concert, and finally as a diminutive figure play a grand piano in the middle of a large field on the mountainside.
Particularly interesting for my purposes here is a coy scene where an older boy leans against the piano, watching Dussault play a Bach fugue. Slightly nervous and awkward, the older boy pontificates about the fugue as a musical game of running away and pursuit. This banal exchange is filmed in a series of tight close-ups edited in a shot-reverse-shot sequence that brings out an intense and ambiguous exchange of looks. Finally, Dussault fixes the older boy for several seconds with a direct and meaningful gaze as he continues to play, and the other boy walks away, flustered. Here, I glimpse a direct, intent, lingering child’s gaze that runs like a fugue theme throughout Jutra’s oeuvre.
|Michel Dussault and an older boy discuss the finer points of the fugue in ....||... a queer encounter?|
Later in the film, we see Dussault taking tickets for a concert at the music camp. As the adults are called into the concert hall, the boy listens from outside, then wanders off (this is the literal meaning of the French word “fugue”) into the summer night. In a romantic sequence of moonlight and shadows, camera and faint piano music follow the boy as he scuffs along a dirt path lost in thought. Dussault then reclines in the grass, hands behind his head, and a blurred close-up signal a fantasy montage sequence that builds to the film’s climax. The boy appears seated at a grand piano wearing a dark jacket and bowtie playing complex and passionate music in three consecutive and progressively grander venues: First in a community auditorium (again fixing the audience with that intent gaze) to standing ovation, and next in a larger venue where the camera pans over a rose placed on top of the grand piano. The music and the pace of the montage accelerate with each successive venue, and each performance is rewarded with enthusiastic clapping. In the final formal concert hall, the boy is dressed in a white jacket with a carnation at the lapel; his bow leads to montage of ecstatic clapping. Cut to a long shot of the diminutive pianist on a huge stage, and two little girls emerge from the wings to offer him huge baskets of flowers. Dussault turns toward each girl in turn, bowing slightly, and offers a rose to each girl. Once again, ecstatic clapping and voices cheering “Bravo!”
|The child prodigy performs to thunderous applause and heterosexual accolades.|
A talented child musician, Michel Dussault would grow up to become a well-known Québec pianist and composer. However, Jutra’s fascination with the child prodigy clearly exceeds an eye for talent. There is an erotic charge, but also very possibly a form of identification. After all, Jutra himself was a multi-talented prodigy, only twenty-six when this documentary was released in 1956. Energetic, playful, optimistic, with a compelling rhythm at once languorous and intense, Jeunesses musicales was very well received by audiences and critics of the period. A fine example of how “a filmmaker can use the confines of an official mandate to make evocative art” (Druick 99), Jeunesses musicales was broadcast on Radio-Canada, the sole French-language television public channel of the time. It was also distributed across the Jeunesses musicales movement in Canada, France and Belgium (Lever 61-64).
It is interesting to set this NFB film in dialogue with Pierrot des bois, a nine-minute independent short also completed in 1956. Pierrot des bois was the fruit of a legendary collaboration between Jutra and legendary director and cinematographer Michel Brault that is celebrated as part of the lore of Québec cinema of the Quiet Revolution. As the story goes, Jutra’s father offered him a Bolex camera on his sixteenth birthday, around the time that Jutra met Brault at a Boy Scout camp. The teenagers learned their art and trade together, and Brault collaborated on Le Dément du lac Jean-Jeunes, as well as Jutra’s most celebrated features including À tout prendre and Mon oncle Antoine. Like Dément, Pierrot des bois was filmed in the woods near the Jutras family cottage.
Captured brilliantly by Brault’s camera, Claude Jutra performs Pierrot against the forest backdrop of the Laurentian mountains. Lever notes that mime was Jutra’s favourite activity at theatre school, and his talents are documented in Pierrot des bois and Il était une chaise. In his performance of Pierrot, Jutra prances and skips through the woods, playing hide and seek with the camera among the trees; the short film is accompanied by a wonderful original soundtrack by NFB composer and sound designer Maurice Blackburn. Jutra’s Pierrot exudes a childlike wonder as he finds a rose and marvels at its beauty, falling in love. In his delight, he floats above ground and capers about with the rose in hand; after a time, Pierrot spins out of control in a tight and giddy close-up. In this simple narrative, the beauty of the rose and Pierrot’s childlike wonder are poignantly ephemeral: Pierrot inadvertently crushes the rose and is crestfallen for a time. He buries the rose, hesitates for a moment, then skips off into the forest, seemingly carefree.
|Jutra encounters the rose in Pierrot des bois (1956).|
|Spinning in a giddy close-up (Pierrot des bois).|
Lever cites a passage from Jutra’s journal written during the shoot that captures something of the joyful exuberance of this moment.
“The weather was splendid, a radiant spring day. In this harsh and wild place, I evolved, I was leaping about, I was in ecstasy in my white satin suit, my face covered in flour, my eyes lined with black, while Michel adeptly manoeuvred the song of the camera. Harmonious friendship in spontaneous exchange, artistic creation in its greatest liberty, the studied contrast between a costume and a setting, nature in spring in its most intimate splendour, could we imagine a more exhilarating day?” (cited in Lever 65).
Despite the rich citation from Jutra’s journal, the ever-sceptical biographer reads “Pierrot’s skipping that ends in a drama as an allegory for Claude’s [unhappy] love affairs” (65) with young women. By selectively reading Jutra’s personal life into the works, in this case failed heterosexual romance, Lever flattens the resonance of this remarkable little short.
As an antidote to Lever’s relentless mantra of immaturity and failure, I would argue that Jutra, like Pierrot, falls outside of a “normal” developmental logic. A rose is a rose is a rose …. What would Gertrude Stein make of the rose of Pierrot des bois? The rose may signify failed heterosexual romance, but it could also evoke the ephemeral beauty of this spring day, a desire so unspeakable that it must be cruelly crushed, the fleeting perfect conditions for artistic creation, or the homosocial harmony of friendship and collaboration. Is it too much of a stretch to connect Pierrot’s rose with the rose on Michel Dussault’s piano in Jeunesses musicales? Is Pierrot’s failed or unspeakable love, or more alarmingly the crushed and bruised object of this love, a young boy?
Pierrot is an androgynous, whimsical figure who like Jutra is childlike yet not a child. This figure is ethereal in his wonder with every encounter, every perfect and fleeting sketch. From his origins as a stock figure in the 17th century Commedia dell'Arte to nineteenth and twentieth century French stage and screen, Pierrot is suspended in time, neither young nor old. This sensitive and solitary figure stands apart from the fray of life and love in Enfants de paradis (Carné 1945) and in Watteau’s paintings. Delighted with every encounter, he is often melancholy, always unlucky in love. In Pierrot des bois, however, we see the mobile and reversible gaze that observes, desires, and identifies with the ambiguously androgynous and ageless Pierrot, the tragic clown often seen as the artist’s alter-ego. As a Romantic and melancholic figure who never enters the realm of “adult” heterosexual sexuality, Pierrot is appealing and unthreatening. When he becomes specifically sexual, however, this queer figure becomes perverse, sinister, uncanny.
For Castañeda, “the condition of childhood … finds its value in potentiality. At the same time, the form that the child’s potentiality takes is consistently framed as a normative one, in relation to which failure is always possible.” She goes on to argue: “Should a child either fail to possess or realize its potential (as in the notion of ‘stunted growth’), he or she remains a flawed child and an incomplete adult” (4). In her queer account, Stockton fleshes out these norms: children’s “supposed gradual growth, their suggested slow unfolding which, unhelpfully, has been relentlessly figured as vertical movement upward (hence, ‘growing up’) toward full stature, marriage, work, reproduction, and the loss of childishness” (4). Jutra’s “queerness,” then, emerges not only from his erotic attraction to children, but also from of his self-avowed childishness, his refusal or inability to grow up.
Pierrot des bois shares with Jeunesses musicales a romantic depiction of youth as a time of creativity, exploration, and learning. This romantic sensibility emerges with a particular intensity in Pierrot des bois and À tout prendre, where Jutra directs and performs for the camera. Marked by a stylistic exploration, these two films celebrate a virtuoso diegetic performance of artistic youthful masculinity on-screen. And yet, read across time in light of the 2016 revelations, there is a darkness and a cruelty in these works. Both films project a heady dramatization of falling in love, followed by hurt, disappointment and abandonment. Further, Jutra focalizes his own desire and subjectivity as subject of the film and of the gaze, in a dynamic that doubly “fixes” the object of desire (the rose, and much more problematically, Johanne Harrelle). The problematic result of this doubled gaze can be seen in À tout prendre, where Jutra tends to efface Harrelle’s subjectivity and desire, as some critics mentioned at the time. This complex and mobile gaze of desire and identification that projects empathy and cruelty alike is part of Jutra’s distinct auteurist stamp, a way of looking that emerges most vividly in these early autobiographical works. Once again, Jutra’s “erotic sensibilities” are in plain sight. And yet, as Tom Waugh argues in his piece in this special section, these works are intensely self-aware and confessional.