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Quebec director Denis CôtéJennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail

Denis Côté is a prodigious avant-garde filmmaker who delights in making movies that leave viewers puzzled and more than a little agitated. So when his latest feature, Curling, was described by a programmer at last fall's Toronto International Film Festival as his most "accessible" film to date, the Montreal-based director took offence at the implied user-friendliness in that word.

Used to being feted as an indie trail blazer - the tattooed dude embraced by film festivals but outside Quebec's movie-making mainstream - Côté talks to The Globe and Mail about why he feels duty-bound to make audiences work.

What exactly is it about the descriptive "accessible" that makes you squirm?

That word was created by TIFF programmer Martin Bilodeau. He wrote it in the catalogue and it seems to be following me everywhere. What does accessible mean? I've made five films since 2005 and three were partly improvised and made in 10 days. Curling took three years, and countless writing sessions, to develop. And the lead actor, Emmanuel Bilodeau, is very well known here. So I guess those factors add up to make Curling somewhat more "accessible," but I'm not comfortable with the branding.

This film has been invited to 55 festivals around the world. It won best director at last August's Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and Bilodeau won best-actor honours. And while your previous films have not been released in English Canada, Curling hit Toronto screens last week and will appear in Vancouver March 25. Why did this one break through?

You're going to laugh, but my entire film budget since 1997 - for five features and 15 shorts - totals $2.2-million. Curling cost $1-million. It's more of a classic adventure than my previous work. Also the distributor, Mongrel Media, is bigger. I'm very proud of finally being released in English Canada. My films always seem to work in Quebec, but the rest of Canada seems to be another planet we have to conquer.

The American debut of Curling is set for the prestigious New Directors/New Films festival at the Museum of Modern Art in New York later month. Currently, TIFF Bell Lightbox also features you in its New Auteurs series. At 37, do you feel too young to be headlining a retrospective?

Actually, I have five retrospectives this year - in Toronto, Ottawa, Israel, France and New York. Will I die soon? No. I've very proud to be featured because it means there is a signature, a rhythm, there. MOMA is a door to the States, where my films have been ignored. I'd rather be in New Directors than one of 300 films lost at Sundance.

Curling is about a socially detached handyman (Bilodeau) who lives a hermit life with his 12-year-old daughter (the actor's real-life daughter, Philomène Bilodeau). Curling doesn't play a major part in the film, so why this title?

I know it's a bit enigmatic, but the whole film is about him coming back to the living. I see he and his daughter as zombies whom we need to take and bring back to life. The only time he's interested in something is when he sees curling, which is ironic given that it's the most boring sport. But his life is so boring that curling is exciting to him.

Dead bodies pile up through the movie, and are never explained. Why all the question marks left hanging there?

I think a large number of films today are imposing. Other films invite people to sit there and wait for an answer. I like films that invite the viewer to an experience. I expect audiences to have a dialogue. If there are 300 people sitting in a theatre, with 300 different interpretations, I think that's wonderful. I like to put mystery everywhere. I'm the master of puppets, somehow.

What was the inspiration for this father-daughter story?

The question is terrifying for me because I really don't know. I remember writing in an apartment in Budapest and I think the more you're away from home, the more you think about home. But there is nothing autobiographical about this story. I'm not a father. I don't have a daughter. It's just a bubble of mysterious fiction.

You hate being called the film festival guy. But it's clear you also want to reach an audience and sell your movies to more territories. Are you currently conflicted?

People brand you as that tough and true independent, but as you get older you also want to get closer to the audience. So, yes, I'm caught in between - I want to provoke and I want your love.

This interview has been condensed and edited.