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Chloé Robichaud is both a veteran and rising star of filmmaking

‘I want to put forward young female characters who are complex, and explore them with a lot of nuance,’ says the Quebec director
December 19, 2023
By Julie Barlow, MA 94

This image features a focused woman with short dark hair, conducting an orchestra. She is wearing a black outfit, with the sleeves slightly rolled up to the forearm, and she is holding a conductor's baton in her right hand. Her intense gaze and outstretched left hand suggest she is deeply engaged in directing the performance, capturing a moment of artistic expression and leadership. “It's a film about emotions. The music is there to elevate Emma, to help her feel what she needs to feel,” says director Chloé Robichaud of Days of Happiness, which stars Sophie Desmarais (pictured).

At 35, Chloé Robichaud, BFA 10, has been paving her way as a rising star of Quebec cinema and as a seasoned veteran with a decade of experience and 10 films already to her credit. 

Her first short film, Herd Leader (Chef de meute), received a nomination for the Palme d’or for short films at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Her first long feature, Sarah Prefers to Run (Sarah préfère la course), screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2013 — when the director was just 25.

Robichaud’s latest feature film, Days of Happiness (Les jours heureux), the coming-of-age story of a female orchestra conductor, premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival’s Special Presentation dedicated to leading figures in global cinema. The Montreal daily La Presse called it “as free as it is moving.”

“It’s a film about the past and what we do with it,” explains Robichaud. “The conductor Emma has a really toxic relationship with her father, who’s also her agent, and she's just trying to liberate herself, to be her own self. It’s a film about emotions. The music is there to elevate Emma, to help her feel what she needs to feel.”

Films explore young women in unusual places

The image is a portrait of a woman with shoulder-length dark hair parted in the center. She has a fair complexion and is wearing round, thin-framed glasses. Her eyes have a gentle gaze directed slightly off-camera. She is dressed in a dark blazer, and her appearance is professional. The background is a neutral gray, focusing all attention on her. Chloé Robichaud, BFA 10

Robichaud is dedicated to making films that explore the stories of women in unusual places. “I think it’s great to have different symbols on screen so we’re not working in clichés. And it's also great for young women to see different things on screen.” In Sarah Prefers to Run, the protagonist enters a marriage of convenience so she can pursue a running scholarship. Robichaud’s second feature film, Boundaries (Pays, 2016), was about women in politics.

“I want to put forward young female characters who are complex, and explore them with a lot of nuance,” says Chloé Robichaud. Days of Happiness takes a distinct approach from her earlier work. “It’s less contemplative than my previous films, more engaging. We’re very close to Emma, the camera is always moving with Emma. So, there’s a lot of tension from the camera.”

‘I’m not afraid of being different’

Studying at Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema was important in helping Robichaud build her own style and approach. “Instructors trust you to find your inner artist. They trust your process. They’re definitely not trying to put you in a box.”

Robichaud particularly appreciated courses with instructor Micheline Lanctôt where she learned how to bring out the best in actors. “I’m good with actors. I think it comes from Micheline. I learned everything from her. A film is not good if you don’t have good performances in it. You can have amazing camera work, but if the actors are bad, there’s no film.”

Concordia is also where Robichaud met her muse, actor Sophie Desmarais, who plays both Sarah in Sarah Prefers to Run and conductor Emma in Days of Happiness. “We clicked, I thought she was great and we became good friends,” says Robichaud, who also met director of photography Jessica Lee Gagné [BFA 12], with whom she would work on two feature films. “She’s an amazing DP and a good friend of mine.”

In a 2013 interview with The Globe and Mail, Robichaud said that filmmaking was “all she ever wanted to do.” She now says that hasn’t changed. “I’m not afraid of being different, but I’m not trying to be different for the sake of it. I am trying to really connect to who I am and what I have to say.”

‘A great year’ for women filmmakers in Quebec

Robichaud says that things have grown better for female filmmakers over the decade she has been directing films. “When I started, I was one of the rare women filmmakers who had a bigger budget. Now 10 years later, I feel there’s a lot more equality between men and women filmmakers here. I know it’s not like that in the rest of the world. 

“It’s a great time right now in Quebec for women filmmakers. There are a lot of the success stories in Quebec and Canada.”

Looking ahead, Robichaud hopes to step outside of the Quebec film market. “I would love to do a film in the U.S. or in English, just to try something new and meet new people. If I can reach a wider audience, that would be nice to experience as well.”

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