October crisis / FLQ – The release of “Les Rose” (“The Rose Family”) was well-timed: this year marks the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, an event that since then, is subjected to heated controversies. This movie focuses on the family of one of that event’s best-known protagonists, Paul Rose. Directed by Paul’s son Felix, “The Roses” arose its own controversies too since it is produced by the National Film Board of Canada. The NFB, although autonomous, it is, after all, a federal agency. Some people even compare it to an American agency producing a film showing a sympathetic look at the family of an al-Qaida leader.
From a strictly cinematic point of view, I can say that this is a good film. It makes effective use of the archival material which is well-integrated into the narrative aiming at creating in the spectator, a sympathy toward the characters. This, of course, was the filmmaker’s intention, after all, the son of the story’s hero—or villain.
The film focuses on the family of Paul and Jacques Rose, two members of the Front de Libération du Québec convicted for the kidnapping and murder of then-Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte, in 1970. Indeed, the first half of the movie managed that job quite well, providing interesting information about the Roses, a working-class family in the 1950s. Curiously, a good part of the archival material of that period comes from home movies shot at family reunions, or when vacationing. Amateur movie cameras were not a cheap gadget at the time.
The exploitation of the workers is well documented through the experiences of two family members: the father, who used to work for the sugar refinery Redpath, and then Jacques, who worked for CN. Jacques recalls a telling incident when frustrated because all signs in the workshop were in English, he decided to stick French ones besides each of them. He was reprimanded for that action, his supervisors arguing that “it would be dangerous.” Of course, lots of things have changed since then.
The Quiet Revolution in the 1960s created new conditions for the French-speaking majority in the province, particularly access to better education. The general social climate of that decade also resulted in the rise of political activism in Quebec, with the Roses increasingly involved. Unlike other places at the time, these young militants did not take the cause of socialism. Instead, the Roses and many other Francophones embraced nationalism. In the film, Jacques admits that they were not really very clear about their objective, other than to press for the independence of Quebec. A strong rejection of Canadian institutions and symbols became their primary motivation. In 1963 the first bombings started with explosive placed in mailboxes and an attack on the Montreal Stock Exchange. This event produced the first victims.
The second half of the movie focuses mostly on the October Crisis, the War Measures Act, the killing of Laporte, and then the arrest of the Roses and other FLQ members. While Jacques served five years, Paul, convicted as the actual killer of Laporte, got the most severe sentence: life. In the end, he only served 12 years, being released in December of 1982. For their part, the members of the cell responsible for the British diplomat kidnapping were able to exchange him for a safe exit to Cuba. (Additional information, not part of the movie: the Cubans, although helpful in facilitating a solution, were not happy with these exiles with whom they had no ideological affinity; the felquistes were not pleased in Cuba either, and soon left for capitalist France instead).
Paul’s release was mostly due to political pressure, although not from everybody in the nationalist camp. When a PQ convention in 1981 passed a resolution supporting Paul’s release, the most prominent separatist leader, René Levesque, is seen in the film showing his disgust. He even threatened to resign as leader. Levesque had chosen a democratic way to pursue Quebec’s independence and repudiated the FLQ’s methods.
Despite the obvious intention of the director to present a more agreeable image of Paul, his brother Jacques, and the FLQ, “The Roses” is an interesting film to see. (And one can always disregard aspects that may be branded as propaganda.) Recommended to those interested in Quebec history. Warning: it may bring painful memories to those who lived through that period.