Montreal film La Chute de Sparte aims to be not (just) another teen movie

La Chute de Sparte, or The Fall of Sparta in English, based on the hit teen novel by Quebec artist Biz, deals with bullying, suicide and the pressures of high school life.

Film co-written by Quebec rapper Biz deals with themes of bullying, suicide

Virgile (Jonathan St-Armand) and Steeve (Lévi Doré) play best friends dealing with the heavy realities of teenage life. (LCDS MEDIA)

Call them hallmarks or tropes, but there are some things you come to expect in a classic teen movie: the cheerleader, the jock, and the geek who gets the girl.

That all shows up in the new teen movie La Chute de Sparte, or The Fall of Sparta in English, a new Quebec film released Friday, based on the best-selling Quebec novel by Biz, of the hip hop group Loco Locass.

But Biz and co-screenwriter Tristan Dubois, who directed the film, wanted it to be more than a Porky's or Can't Hardly Wait-style romp.

The film follows the life of bookish introvert Steeve (with two E's) Simard, played by Lévi Doré, who like his character, was about 16 when the film was shot and is now a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday.

Greek mythology and Quebec literature fill Steeve's imagination, represented in the film through visual effects-filled fantasy sequences.

Steeve's football-playing bully Giroux (Karl Walcott) is imagined as a Spartan warrior, but has his own secret vulnerabilities in the film. (LCDS Media)

But in the end, he can't filter out all the pressures of high school, whether it's awkward attempts at dating, facing down a bully, or dealing with the suicide of a classmate.

Biz sat down with All in a Weekend's Ainslie MacLellan to talk about addressing tough topics on film.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Does this film reflect a Quebec high school of today?

First of all, I'm pretty much a teen myself. I did some hip hop and I visited a lot of schools in Quebec to talk to the kids. So I know polyvalentes pretty well. I know their ugliness.

And me and Tristan [Dubois] wanted to speak to the heart and the brain of the kids. It's a pretty large bet to intertwine classical mythology, Quebec poetry of Gaston Miron and football. So we wanted to play with the teen movie codes: with the pretty girl, the football tough [guy] and the lonely guy. Some critics are definitely loving it and some say the blend doesn't blend so much. At this point, it's a point of view.

Lévi Doré, now a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday, was just 16 when Chute de Sparte began filming. (LCDS Media)

Why put in the references to Greek mythology?

It's like for me, every kid who gets out of high school is a Greek hero, because you succeed to a quest. All the great heroes like Achilles — everybody thought he was invincible except he has a weakness. St-Amour, the quarterback [played by Devon O'Connor] and Giroux [played by Karl Walcott] they are the kings of their high school. But in the end, they fell. And the nobody guy, Steeve, he's with Véronique [played by Lili-Ann De Francesco]. He's got the goddess. He succeeds in the end.

In high school, who would have bet on Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs? And they're gods now. So, there is hope. Sometimes in your head, when you read a lot, you imagine yourself in a mythological life. Steeve is like that, but he has to face real life.

How did you approach dealing with serious issues like bullying and suicide?

It's pretty tough to handle this, because it's so slippery. We had some scenes — visual moments of the suicide and we decided to remove it, because we wanted to show the aftermath. So we understand the suicide not because we see it, but because we see the pain and the loss that suicide causes to the beloved. You don't show the gesture itself, but you show the consequences.

Do you think this is a story that girls will identify with as much as boys do?

Yes, because if I see the reaction of the books, La Chute de Sparte, girls are very curious. Girls will be interested by a boy's life to understand their boyfriend. At the opposite, boys are not curious. They want to know about Harry Potter but not Aurélie Laflamme. And I think because women and girls are more curious in general, we had some great comments from girls who don't see Steeve as a boy. They see him as a teen like them.

Steeve Simard (Lévi Doré) dreams of winning over his crush Véronique Plourde (Lili-Ann De Francesco) in La Chute de Sparte. While the story is told from Steeve's perspective, co-screenwriter Biz believes teen girls will still relate with the film. (LCDS MEDIA)

How do you think the film will translate for English viewers?

Honestly, I really don't know and I'm very curious about that! Because it will be different if an American sees the movie and if an anglo Québecois sees the movie. Because even if you speak English in Quebec, you have some common references: like Cégep, like Gaston Miron, football, whatever. So I'm very curious to hear comments from anglo Québecois, because they're a part of Quebec and because in the movie, there are some tensions between English and French, like we have in real life. But Steeve is not against English. He simply says, it's harder to master French than English. In Montreal these days, kids, they catch English like they catch a cold. So he loves French and he wants to study in French, but he says I watch movies in English, I surf the web in English, the whole world is English.


Ainslie MacLellan is a journalist at CBC Montreal. Follow her on Twitter: @CBCAinslie.