Berlin Hidden Gem: 'Cross My Heart' Details Civil Unrest Through the Eyes of Children

Les Rois Mongols Still and Luc Picard - One Time Use Only - Inset - Getty - H 2018
Courtesy of Philippe Bosse (Still); Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images (Picard)

Canadian helmer Luc Picard’s film chronicles Quebec's fight for independence in 1970 from the perspective of a tenacious 12-year-old girl in Montreal.

Luc Picard isn’t the first Canadian director to make a dark cinematic portrait of Quebec’s 1970 October Crisis, where the real-life kidnapping of two government officials by a separatist group, the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), sparked a countrywide panic.

But Picard, also a popular Quebecois actor and comedian, is the first to examine his French-speaking province’s struggle for nationhood through the eyes of children. The result is Cross My Heart, a dramatic feature screening Feb. 18 as part of Berlin’s youth-focused Generation sidebar. The film tells the story of 12-year-old Manon, her little brother, Mimi, and two young cousins taking an old woman hostage to forge their own future.

“It’s about the kids,” Picard tells THR about his fourth film, in which the army arriving on the Montreal streets to quell the FLQ rebellion, rather than being tackled head-on, lurks in the background, often on living room TV screens.

An adaptation of Nicole Belanger’s book, Cross My Heart pushes adults to the rear including then-Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of current Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, who suspended civil liberties and ordered the arrest of suspected terrorists.

The focus remains on young Manon, played by Milya Corbeil-Gauvreau, as she channels nationalist politics — basically when and how Quebec should strive for independence from Canada — as a fiery, sensitive young girl who just wants to be heard as her father’s illness and poverty devastate her family.

“The FLQ is a metaphor in the sense you have young people trying to be true to their principles, and Manon is doing the same, trying to stay young and true,” says Picard of the rebellious teen who promises to never be separated from her little brother as the threat of foster care looms. “It’s a refusing-to-come-of-age story,” Picard adds.

As chaos on the streets of Montreal intensifies, the film remains locked on its young protagonists. Throughout, Picard keeps his camera level with his young characters, offering the viewer a childlike perspective on a situation that, as the film plays, becomes increasingly complex. “I just wanted to see the world as they see it,” he says. “I didn’t want to descend to their level. I wanted to learn from them.”

And Picard captures working-class Montreal mostly with darkened night scenes, in contrast to a sequence in the Quebec countryside where Manon, Mimi and their cousins find fleeting refuge from family and political turmoil. “I decided early on, I wanted the colors of Montreal to be bleak and dark because that’s where the kids are oppressed,” the director explains. “Then, when they take their lives into their own hands, I wanted the color of the sun and the light everywhere.” 

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 16 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.