Montréal By Night: A Slice Of 1940s Canada

By Andrew Bailey

Montréal By Night is a short english-speaking documentary produced in 1947 by the National Film Board (NFB/ONF: l’Office National du Film), providing a ten-minute Montréalais glimpse into a lazy summer night spent by our good friends Colette and Claude who wander the Boulevard Saint Laurent and the Parc Belmont – as well as a smattering of the history and industry that Montréalers can proudly boast about.

The NFB is a federal government funded agency that, in short, provides funding and support to Canadian filmmakers who wish to make a film about something Canadian. The agency, now based in Montréal after a long time spent in Ottawa, has helped to produce 13,000 oeuvres since its inception in 1939. Originally an exclusively anglophone organisation, the agency bowed to pressure and funded many successful francophone films that formed part of the internationally influential Cinéma Direct movement of the 1950s and 60s.

This film, shot in the 1940s, far predates the french language legislations introduced by the Québec provincial government some 30 to 40 years later, and, although the narrator tries to emphasise the apparent harmony between the English and the French, there is still the feeling that the city’s story is being told from a distinctly anglophone supremacist point of view (Or, perhaps some of Québec’s infamous victim complex has been instilled within me).

Either way, the film succeeds in painting a warm and friendly picture of Montréal, contrasting with the usually hivernal views of the world’s second largest francophone city. The fun of the fair, the old men playing le jeux canadien under the stairs and the beautiful girl brushing her hair in the mirror waiting for her hunky date: it all seems a bit too good to be true (Indeed, in its early days the NFB was really nothing more than a propaganda machine for the federal government).

But please, don’t mistake my comments for put-downs: I still love this film. The smiling faces, the fuzzy black and white film, the portrait of simpler times where everyone got along, a Canadian society where rap music hadn’t yet had the chance to “brainwash our children” or succumb to the pressures and misery of 21st century life. Montréal by Night most definitely succeeds in serving up a healthy dose of rose-tinted nostalgia, the kind that can be all the more appreciated in today’s supposedly dystopic world; the kind that no one can resist.

The film can be found at this address:

As a side note, I highly recommend following the NFB on twitter. Their feed is regularly updated with news on new films and directors, as well as works from the past. The agency is a real asset to Canada, one that can and should be appreciated by everyone.

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