Claude Jutra may not have been Quebec's greatest movie director, but he came first, and his films, influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave), were at the cutting edge of the ebullient cultural transition period of the Quiet Revolution. To this day, his multiple award-winning Mon oncle Antoine, shot in 1970, is considered to be one of the best Canadian films ever made.
In 1986, at age 56, as he saw himself desperately imprisoned inside what he called the "glass cage" of Alzheimer's disease, he threw himself into the St. Lawrence River from the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal. He had attached a piece of paper to his clothes, with the words "Je m'appelle (my name is) Claude Jutra," knowing full well that the frigid waters would make him unrecognizable, and maybe to hold on for the last time to what was remaining of his former, vibrant identity.
His body was discovered six months later near Quebec City. This tragic death only enhanced his status as an icon.
The film community gave his name to the annual awards ceremony honouring the province's best cinema artists. Even the golden statuettes handed to the winners are called "Jutra."
So when it was alleged, in a new biography that hit stores on Tuesday, that Claude Jutra was a pedophile who allegedly seduced boys who were sometimes younger than 14 (the legal age for sex until 2008), a bombshell landed on the artistic community.
Mr. Jutra was openly gay but his interest in young boys, if true, was not known, although some people, like Paule Baillargeon, who made a documentary about Mr. Jutra, bluntly says that "everybody knew it."
Claude Jutra, written by retired cinema teacher and critic Yves Lever, reveals in a small chapter of five pages (out of a total of 306) the secret life of Mr. Jutra by quoting several anonymous informers. He didn't interview a victim. He writes that a teenager associated with the shooting of Mon oncle Antoine became Mr. Jutra's "official lover" without specifying whether he was underage or not.
To support his thesis about Mr. Jutra's alleged pedophilia, Mr. Lever uses strange arguments, like his own impression that the filmmaker "took pleasure in showing beautiful (male) adolescents, sometimes nude."
All this is, to say the least, a rather flimsy case for destroying the image of a man who can no longer defend himself.
Mr. Lever tried to escape close questioning from reporters by saying that he doesn't like to focus on Mr. Jutra's sex life and would rather talk about his career. This is a bit rich, considering that the chapter titled "Jutra and the boys" is precisely what's about to make his book a bestseller.
In the short-fused court of public opinion, the fire has been lit. People are demanding the renaming of the Jutra awards and calling for a boycott of the ceremony on March 20. Some urge the former recipients of Jutra statuettes to return them. Even in the absence of any proof that Mr. Jutra committed a crime, there's a real possibility that some of the next winners of a Jutra award will self-righteously reject it on the spot.
Québec Cinéma, the organization responsible for the awards ceremony, has set up a committee to study Mr. Lever's allegations. How they must envy the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose trophy – Oscar – is a fictional character.
EDS NOTE: An earlier version incorrectly said 14 was the legal age for sex until 1986. In fact, the official age of consent was not raised (to age 16) until 2008.