Loosely based on a century-old novella written by Quebec historian Lionel Groulx, Hervé Demers’ subtle tale of rural life, A Shade of Grey (or Les adieux de la Grise in its native language), has been screened at festivals all around the world, as well as broadcast in more than 50 countries. Capturing a small slice of the daily routine from a Canadian farm, Demers’ film takes us on a journey of discovery with lead character Noémy, as she’s introduced to the harsher realities of existence. Emerging from the cocoon of innocence that her peaceful upbringing on the family homestead has granted her so far, an unexpected event involving her much-loved prize-winning Alpaca, soon means she’s about to open her eyes to the uncompromising actualities of life.
“Initially, my intention was to capture on screen this precise moment when a child experiences the concept of mortality and loss for the first time” Demers told Short of the Week when quizzed about why he wanted to portray these particular events in his short. “This realisation, as thin a subject as it may seem, appeared to me as a fascinating point of entrance into adult conscience: the origin of maturity”. And he’s right. It would be easy to write Demers’ narrative off as slight or even uneventful, because in cinematic terms, this is what it is. Hollywood has made us so accustomed to narratives grand and epic that sometimes stories of a significant moment in an individual’s life, like the one captured in A Shade of Grey, can seem small and somewhat insignificant. However, forget what you know about Hollywood for a moment and take the time to look at this story for what it is and you’ll realise it is an assured and powerful piece of writing. There might not be explosions and there are no worlds needing to be saved, but in Noémy’s (and it’s her world the director so successfully immerses us in), or any young girl’s life, there won’t be many more memorable events than those captured in this tale.
As is well documented, working with both children and animals can be an incredibly testing task for even the most experienced filmmaker, but throw in the harsh conditions of a Canadian winter and Demers had really set himself a challenge with the shoot for A Shade of Grey. Enter the filming with what the director describes as “just the right mix of naivety and enthusiasm”, he soon learnt that this holy trinity of challenges meant that his shoot was going to get a little more difficult than expected. “Some things we thought simple at first started to delay our schedule and the shoot became a little longer than expected” he explains. “It wasn’t easy, but being my own producer on this piece allowed me to adapt and shape the schedule in a way that made possible the complex animal presence surrounding the characters, which I thought was an essential element of this film.”
Those demanding more action or a faster pace may not find A Shade of Grey a particularly rewarding experience, but give it the chance to immerse you in its emotive storyline and this tale of a young girl and her beloved Alpacca will certainly be more narratively rewarding than any frantic Hollywood blockbuster you’ll witness this summer.
Fans of Demers’ approach will be happy to hear that he has already secured the financing to shoot his next narrative short. Filming in November, Le nom que tu portes (The Name you Carry) will portray the unique relationship of a Ukrainian immigrant father and his Quebec-born son.