Nominees for performance by an actress in a leading role

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Isabelle Blais
Les Aimants/Love and Magnets

Isabelle Blais caught Genie’s eye with her comedic turn as Julie in the romantic comedy Les Aimants, written and directed by Yves Pelletier. Produced by Nicole Robert and Gabriel Pelletier and distributed by Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm, Les Aimants scores two Genie nods (the other for supporting actress Sylvie Moreau) and won Prix Jutra for Moreau, Pelletier’s script and the score by Carl Bastien and Dumas.

Blais plays Julie, a woman returning to her sister Jeanne’s Montreal home from Guatemala. Julie meets Jeanne’s boyfriend Noël and suddenly finds herself in a dating game the rules for which she doesn’t quite understand. Further complicating matters, Jeanne and Noël have a habit of corresponding via the magnets on their fridge, which initiates a game of broken telephone.

Other memorable recent roles for Blais, 29, include the daughter of a dying man in Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares and a supporting turn in Monica la mitraille, which has seven Genie noms this year. Blais was also shortlisted for the Jutra for best actress, but lost to Pascal Bussières for Ma vie en cinémascope. She was nominated for her first Genie for her lead work in 2002′s Savage Messiah, and won the 2003 Jutra for supporting actress in Québec-Montréal.

Céline Bonnier
Monica la mitraille/Machine Gun Molly

Céline Bonnier’s portrayal of notorious bank robber Monique Sparvieri glitters against the poverty and destitution of Montreal in the 1960s. Focusing on Sparvieri’s relationships with the men she loved and her children, the film explores the complex woman behind the violence. Shot dead by police at the age of 27, Sparvieri’s hard-and-fast life mesmerized a nation. Bonnier has said that the bandit’s passion drew her to the role.

It is Bonnier’s first nom in the lead actress category. (She was also nominated for the best actress Jutra.) At 39, she has twice been Genie-nominated for best supporting actress: in 1993 for Tectonic Plates and in 2001 for Les Muses orphelines.

Bonnier also appears in Le Dernier tunnel, which has a pack-leading eight Genie noms this year. The thesp has won Gemeaux awards in three consecutive years: for lead in the drama series Tag (2001 and 2003) and for supporting in the mini The Last Chapter (2002).

Monica la mitraille is based on Georges-Hébert Germain’s novel Memories of Monica and is helmed by Pierre Houle, who is also nominated. Lorraine Richard and Luc Martineau of Cité-Amérique-FRV Media are the producers.

Pascal Bussières
Ma vie en cinémascope

Quebec cinema staple Pascal Bussières receives her fourth Genie nomination for her role as local 1940s singer Alys Robi in the biopic Ma vie en cinémascope. Written and directed by Denise Filiatrault and produced by Cinémaginaire, the film has been a box-office hit in Quebec.

Chronicling the highs and lows of Robi’s life, Bussières takes us from the glory of the Quebec stage to the depths of depression. Branded a goddess by the American media yet committed to an institution by her own father, Robi underwent a lobotomy at the height of her career under the direction of her doctors, who saw it as her only chance at a normal life.

Critics have lauded Bussières’ depiction of Robi as heartbreakingly accurate. Staying true to the superstar’s life was greatly helped by the appearance on set of the real-life Robi, now 81. Bussières is a favorite to get the Genie, having won the Prix Jutra for her performance.

The 36-year-old Bussières’ first lead actress Genie nom came in 1985 for her role as a suicidal teen in Sonatine. In 1996, she received a couple more nods, for performances in Eldorado and When Night Is Falling. She won the 2000 Jutra for supporting actress for her role as the mother of a confused tomboy in Léa Pool’s Emporte-moi.

Emily Hampshire
Blood

At age 24, Emily Hampshire is not only the youngest contender in this category, but also the only one from English Canada. She is up for her role as Noel in Jerry Ciccoritti’s experimental feature Blood.

Noel lives in a dark and erotic world where innocence and societal rules are left at the door. Hell-bent on convincing her brother to enter a threesome with her at a nearby hotel, Noel’s ideas on love, sex, violence and drugs aren’t for the squeamish.

Based on a Tom Walmsley play and backed by producers Anna Gerb and Joel Awerbuck of Toronto’s Spank Films, Blood is Ciccoritti’s first HD production. The script was shot in its entirety twice a day for four days on one soundstage, providing eight complete versions for editing.

Hampshire’s role in Blood is a far cry from her comedic turn in Gary Burns’ A Problem with Fear, which garnered her a 2003 Genie nomination for supporting actress. She also was among the Made in Canada cast that scored a best ensemble performance Gemini in 2001.

Hampshire had a minor role as a waitress in writer/director Jacob Tierney’s Twist, which is up for four Genies this year. Tierney (as an actor) and Hampshire then jumped into each other’s arms as would-be sibling lovers in Blood.

Jacinthe Laguë
Elles étaient cinq
A relative big-screen newcomer, Jacinthe Laguë scores her first Genie nom for her role as 32-year-old Manon Cloutier in Ghyslaine Côté’s Elles étaient cinq.
The drama follows Manon as she is hurled into emotional turmoil after a chance meeting with a tattooed man. The encounter unleashes long-buried memories, bringing to light a horrific summer night long ago. Adept at living in denial, Manon and her carefully constructed happiness are suddenly threatened. But the film ultimately tells a story of hope, as Manon learns to overcome a night of rape, murder and innocence lost and reclaims friendships denied for 15 years, as she comes to terms with her attacker’s release.
Laguë also received a Jutra nomination for her performance. A graduate of the National Theatre School, she is an accomplished actress, singer and musician. Her film debut was in Phyllis Katrapani’s Home, which preemed at the 2002 Montreal World Film Festival. Elles étaient cinq opened the 2004 WFF, and went on to claim the fest’s best artistic contribution prize and was voted most popular Canadian film.
Director Côté contributed to the script by Chantal Cadieux. Forum Films’ Richard Lalonde and Remstar Productions’ Maxime Rémillard produced the film, which has another Genie nom for editor Richard Comeau.

Playback picks
* Pascale Bussières: PV, MD, MH, SD, LB
* Céline Bonnier: IE