Au bout de ma rue

This spring, I am taking Contructions of Cultural Space (ANG 6670) at U of M as part of my MA in English Lit. In the first class we watched two short films from the NFB. The first film is titled 'Montreal by Night' (1947) and the second one is 'Au bout de

ma rue’ (1958). Both films are from the National Film Board. While watching 'Montreal by Night' I was struck how much people socialized outside the home (balconies, the sidewalks, etc.) before the advent of TV. I was also struck by how much Montreal has declined in terms of power and influence since then.  Montreal in the 40’s was the second largest city outside of London (British Empire) in terms of economic power and production. 

 However, in this post I want to discuss the second film in more detail, the one with the little boy walking down the streets of Montreal to the harbor and back home. The short film caught my attention with the opening shot; I immediately recognized the Jacques Cartier bridge and the surrounding area. A flood of memories came back from childhood as I associated the images and story  to the streets and places where I grew up (this was essentially the same neighbourhood further north in the Italian part of Montreal).

The movie opens with a small group of boys marching down the street and turning into a lane banging pots and pans.  I was reminded of the Montreal ‘pots and pans’ protest of 2012. I thought to myself that maybe the kids in the film were some of the older marchers who took part in the demonstration several years ago. I decided to stop begin ‘silly’ and to pay attention to the film’s narrative. 

The film starts with a long aerial view of the Jacques Cartier Bridge and the camera then slowly pans towards an aerial view of the streets and lanes surrounding the bridge. The camera then slowly glides to the street (almost like a paper airplane) with the lens focusing down the street, where we see 4 marching boys banging pots and pans, they turn into a lane  and as they walk down the lane they push a little girl. The little girl looks at them and then turns to look inside the yard of a house. She can see in because the fence post is broken. She peeks in to watch our protagonist (a young boy) looking up at the sky whistfully while playing with a paper airplane. He throws the plane and it goes over the fence accidentally.  The little girl catches the plane in the lane and when he come out of his yard tries to give it to him. He looks at her, doesn’t take the plane, and while this is happening down the street the ice truck stops to deliver a block of ice. He doesn’t take his plane back from the girl. Instead he runs and steps on the back of the ice truck. While the truck leaves he takes and chew on a bit of ice and he starts his journey on a horse and buggy towards the port and the water.

In the opening several minutes of the film the major themes are established. He does not play with the other boys,  he seems to need something more. He does not accept the little girl’s gesture of playing with him and he seems to have other things on his mind. He is looking elsewhere for something (we don’t quite know what it is at this point). 

The film follows the boy as he works his way to the Jacques Cartier pier. When he gets there he observes ships loading and unloading products. He observes ships going up and down the St. Lawrence. At this time people also used the St. Lawrence for traveling up and down the river on ocean liners. All the shots establish the idea that there is a larger world out there and that somehow the boy is not part of that world. The little boy wants/yearns for something more. He dreams of the ‘bigger’ outside world (symbolized by the ships and the port). He finds a ‘lure’ and puts it in his pocket.

He gets to the water’s edge and at this point a security guard(policeman?) gestures for him to back away from the water. He looks up and obeys the order. Realizing the time he decides to go back home. Again, the camera follows him back while capturing the scenes and neighbourhood around him. As he walks through the street there’s many children playing outside (he doesn’t join them) and goes straight home.

As he arrives on his street he sees the little girl playing hopscotch outside her house, he stops to watch her briefly and then goes back into his yard and sits down looking at the ‘lure’ he found and and then the sky. The little girl never leaves the area around her house. She seems to be bound by the home’s boundaries. A few days after watching the film, I realized that when growing up I was always with other little boys on the street. The girls were  ‘not’ allowed to play with us in the lanes. And we rarely saw them in the park, since girls were not permitted to wander alone or even with their friends, unless they were walking to and from school.

As the film ends, the camera then starts this background movement from the yard to the lane and it starts to slowly rise over the neighbourhood as it rises  we see the little girl still playing hopscotch on the corner outside her house, we get and aerial view of the street as the camera goes higher and higher.

I absolutely loved the film not only for its story but also because for me this was the Montreal of my youth.  We lived and played for most of the day in the lanes behind our houses, going inside only for lunch and supper. I was also struck by how much things have changed. Today children don’t have these options. Certainly any boy wandering around the city alone and going through a busy port to watch the men work not only would not be allowed to so but someone would probably alert the police and they in turn would call DYP (Department of Youth Protection) on the parents.

© Sam Bruzzese 2022