Michèle Cournoyer received a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2017 in recognition of her exceptional career as a leading figure in Canadian and Quebecois animation. Her powerful films are a testament to minimalist, black and white storytelling, that often addresses difficult themes with a singular sense of finesse and humour.
Born in 1943 in Saint-Joseph-de-Sorel, Michèle studied graphic arts, photography, and animation. In the 1970s, she personally directed several experimental and independent short films, while also acting as a decorator, artistic director, costume designer and screenwriter in several Quebec films, such as Gilles Carle's La mort d’un bûcheron (1973) and Mireille Dansereau's L’arrache-cœur (1979) .
In 1989, she won the 9th Cinéaste Recherche contest hosted by the NFB French Animation Program, and went on to direct several other prestigious films, such as A Feather Tale (1992), which depicts a cruel game in which love is stripped of its golden glow, Accordion (2004), which was presented in competition at the Cannes Festival and deals with romantic relationships in the era of technological mediation, and her latest film Soif (2009), which deals with alcoholism.
Michèle left the NFB in 2009 but her legacy and talent lives on in the playlist below, where we invite you to view her films.
Michèle Cournoyer came to the NFB with a background in the fine arts. During the 1970s, she made her own independent shorts, including a striking experimental collage films. Arriving at the NFB in the early 1990s, she would make inventive use of the rotoscope, a technique that allows animators to draw over live-action footage. She turned to a new medium with The Hat (1999), a work executed in ink. Rendered in minimalist black and white, the film addressed the difficult visual metaphors. The Hat won worldwide acclaim-and Cournoyer went on to tackle similarly challenging subjects with Accordion (2004) and the chilling Robes of War (2008). Mastering the art of film without words, she has left us speechless.
This interview is part of Making Movie History: A Portrait in 61 Parts.
A woman plays out her existence on the screen of her life. Alcohol is the essence of her being. She imbibes her youth and becomes completely absorbed by the desire to satisfy her thirst. Moving from parties to binge drinking, pleasure to distress, joy to delirium, she lets herself be lulled by the undulating waves of bottles. She floats in the intoxicating liquid, sees her childhood re-emerge, and feels as if she is a tiny fish lost in an ocean of madness. Her craving for alcohol engenders a burning passion. Drinking becomes a fatal embrace... On the verge of drowning in the torrent of this insane obsession, will she find the strength to rise to the surface?
Soif is a tragedy in five acts centered on a woman who must confront the fate of her existence. Michèle Cournoyer (The Hat) has created another hard-hitting film. She broaches a sensitive topic in her inimitable style, using black ink on paper to render dazzling metamorphoses.