Robert brings gritty Cheech to big screen

Montreal: Producer Nicole Robert of Go Films (Horloge biologique, Sur le seuil) is hoping to continue Quebec's long history of successful stage-to-screen adaptations with Cheech, the film version of local scribe François Létourneau's popular theatrical hit.

Montreal: Producer Nicole Robert of Go Films (Horloge biologique, Sur le seuil) is hoping to continue Quebec’s long history of successful stage-to-screen adaptations with Cheech, the film version of local scribe François Létourneau’s popular theatrical hit.

The film, directed by Patrice Sauvé, who helmed the Gemeaux Award-winning TV series L’Héritière de grande ourse, wrapped late last month, based on a script adapted for the screen by Létourneau himself.

Cheech, which has been described as gritty and street-smart, is set in an escort agency, where several men prepare to hire prostitutes. The play, Létourneau’s follow-up to his debut Stampede, has received broad critical accolades for its frank depiction of Montreal’s largely hidden criminal underbelly. Robert says she was struck by the play, which has been mounted in France, Germany, the U.S. and Australia, and approached Sauvé about bringing the project to film.

‘He was thinking exactly the same thing,’ she says.

Létourneau also appears in the film, along with Fanny Mallette (Gaz Bar Blues), Patrice Robitaille (Maurice Richard) and Maxime Denommée (Idole instantanée).

Sauvé explains that the original material was substantially modified for the cinematic translation.

‘We reworked the play, which was nonlinear, into a linear timeline,’ he explains. ‘The film moves very quickly indeed. I was looking at the Coen Brothers’ films – in particular Fargo – for a guide as to the film’s sense of style and pace.’

Cheech marks Sauvé’s feature directorial debut, but Robert, who has a successful track record backing first-timers such as Ricardo Trogi (Québec-Montréal) and Éric Tessier (Sur le seuil), says she had complete faith in his ability.

‘I had seen what Patrice had done on Grande ourse, so I knew how good he was – how passionate he was about this material,’ she says.

Robert notes that the production sought to overachieve stylistically within its budget of $4.5 million.

‘It was a bit of a stretch – we chose to shoot in Cinemascope, which meant different lenses and equipment from the U.S.,’ she says. ‘Yves Bélanger [who has lensed Les Bougon], our cinematographer, did an amazing job. We are extremely happy with the results.’

Aside from the equipment, Robert says the shoot was also complicated for a surprising reason, given its wintry Montreal locale – the need to create a snowstorm.

‘The script takes place in one day, and towards the end of the day, a severe storm hits,’ she explains. ‘We wanted to depict the storm realistically, and so we had to create our own snow and effects.’

Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm plans to release Cheech in late summer or fall.