“Jerome’s Secret,” Acadian Phil Comeau’s First Fiction Film



QUEBEC CITY -- Legends are a way for a people to remain immortal. Based on the mysterious story of a man who was found, almost mute and with both legs amputated, on a St. Mary's Bay beach in 1863, young Acadian director Phil Comeau has created a work imbued with warmth and simplicity, true to the people of this part of the country, which all too often has been neglected by the rest of the French-speaking world.

But Phil Comeau, 38, who was born in the same area where Jerome spent his life, doesn’t necessarily see himself as the standard-bearer for the Acadian cause. With his considerable experience in short film and documentaries, in addition to having worked with Claude Miller, Claude Sautet, Alain Corneau and Jean Beaudin, he refuses to be limited to folk cinema. Jerome’s Secret is his first full-length fiction film. It opens at Cinéplex Charest today.

“What I want to do is tell stories, make people discover other worlds. To me it was unacceptable that there had never been a joint Acadia-Quebec production. We were lagging behind the rest of the French-speaking world,” he told LE SOLEIL at the premiere of his film in Quebec City last night.

Jerome’s Secret is the culmination of ten years of work for Phil Comeau. His collaboration with playwright Jean Barbeau gave him the support he needed to recreate the legend on the screen, but also the story that takes centre stage, of the couple that took Jerome in. Unable to have children, Julitte (Myriam Cyr) took the stranger (Denis Lapalme) under her wing, despite the opposition of her husband, Jean Nicholas (Germain Houde), known as Le Corse, and the ridicule of the villagers. Their story goes straight to the heart.

Till his death in April 1912, Jerome uttered just three words: his first name (invented by Julitte), Colombo (the ship that brought him to the shores of Acadia?) and Trieste (the Italian city he came from?). These three short words, his Slavic appearance, his withdrawn attitude and his disability led to a thousand and one hypotheses about his origins. Jerome took his secret to the grave, but that didn’t stop Phil Comeau from unveiling part of the mystery in a captivating epilogue.

The Actors

When he saw an interview with the man who would play Jerome in the film, Phil Comeau knew right away that he had his man. Denis Lapalme, a member of the Canadian wheelchair basketball team, has enormous artistic potential according to the filmmaker and the film crew. Not only does he look like American actor William Hurt, he has the same innocence and flawless acting that Hurt displayed when he started.

For her part, Myriam Cyr didn’t hesitate a second to accept the invitation to play the impetuous Julitte, a delightful mix of La Corriveau, Maria Chapdelaine and Émilie Bordeleau. First of all because it was a golden opportunity to reconnect with the language of her childhood, but also because such strong female roles are very rare in film. “Women are used to serving as foils. Here, Julitte is the focal point of the film. For me, this is more important than anything I’ve done before,” she explained.

Quebecers know little about this young actress. In fact, they are more familiar with her younger sister Isabelle, from the television series Chambres en ville. Yet Myriam Cyr has been happily working in film and theatre ever since she left the Montreal Conservatory. And not just anywhere or with anyone: in London with director Ken Russell for Gothic; in the company of Al Pacino, playing opposite him on Broadway, and with whom she hopes to do a film; with Irish actor Richard Harris…

Since its presentation at the World Acadian Congress, Jerome’s Secret has been a hit in the land of Viola Léger (who has a role in the film). In every village, people are rushing to finally see an “exportable” film that talks about them, their past, their lives, their Jerome. You might call it a renewed sense of pride.

Source: Normand Provencher, "“Jerome’s Secret”: Acadian Phil Comeau’s First Fiction Film ," Le Soleil, September 23, 1994.

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