Bittersweet Memories (film)

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Bittersweet Memories
Directed by Denise Filiatrault
Produced by Daniel Louis
Denise Robert
Written by Denise Filiatrault
Starring Pascale Bussières
Michel Barrette
Distributed by Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm
Release date(s)
  • December 2004 (2004-12)
Running time 105 minutes
Country Canada
Language French

Bittersweet Memories (French: Ma vie en cinémascope; lit. My Life in Cinemascope) is a Quebec, Canada film released in 2004. This biographical drama depicted the career of Quebec singer Alys Robi, as portrayed by Pascale Bussières. The film makes use of flashback sequences in order to connect her childhood, adolescence and adulthood to her later emotional crisis.


As a young girl, Alice was taken to public places and told to sing by her father. At age 13, she wants independence from her father, who she thinks is using her to gain fame.

She wants to go to Montreal alone to make it big. She joins a theater troop led by a Mme Ouellet, nicknamed La Poune. She informs the troop that she will now be going by Alys Robi, stating that the “y” looks more artistic.

She receives an offer to join Jean Grimaldi’s comedy show, which allows her to meet his son Olivier. During one scene when Olivier sings, Alys comes over to him and begins kissing him. However, a stage crew worker unveils a set of Christian statues, including one depicting Mary holding Jesus’s bloody body after being taken down from the cross. Alys immediately remembers what the priest said in Church about sins of the flesh and lust – that offenders will burn in hell. She stops then. However, this doesn’t faze her quite enough, and they continually make love even though Olivier is a married man.

Alys is refused absolution of these sins by a priest during confession (Thou shalt not desire unless in matrimony). She suffers from a nervous system breakdown as a result of this. Olivier comes and breaks her out of this locked-in syndrome saying that she needs to stop fighting her feelings and thinking that God will punish her.

In 1939, France and England declare war on Germany at the start of World War II. This begins an emergency mobilization of Montreal regiments. Montreal mayor Camillien Houde is shown demanding the Quebec people to “stand up against the federal government in Ottawa.” He continues by saying that “While speaking through Prime Minister Mackenzie King, the federal government is imposing on Canadians a national registry of all able men, and conscription in the Canadian armed forces. It’s a ploy to send you [Quebeckers] to fight.”

Several short movie advertisements are then shown asking the moviegoers to “Buy Victory Bonds” and that “Already many women have abandoned their stoves to work in munitions factories to do their part.” Alys was named the mascot of the royal Van Doos and began touring the province’s military bases to boost morale. “She’s our brave lads’ number one pinup. Everyone wants a picture of the singer known as The Body,” an advertisement claims. However, this new lifestyle leads to drinking, patrying, dancing on tabletops, and kissing many soldiers.

Her mother begins asking her if she still goes to mass every morning. Alys replies, “I don’t even go on Sundays.” After performing at a nightclub one night, she meets Lucio Agostini, a composer and married man. He gets her a job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to sing in three different languages on a weekly radio show called “Latin American Serenade.” After asking that Lucio get a divorce, Lucio replies, “Alys, I am Italian. In my family, we don’t divorce.” She literally goes crazy after his response and begins grabbing for prescription drugs and alcohol. Her moments of depression and aggressiveness are soon becoming commonplace.

In 1946, she receives an offer to appear on television in London. Her little brother Gerard is diagnosed with spina bifida, a birth defect that will later take his life. After hearing that he will soon die from this, Alys becomes aggressive, saying, “Nothing’s impossible for me! I have lots of money!” She then empties her purse out and throws the money around. During a nightclub performance, in which she sang “You’re in my Heart,” she tells the band to play the same song again. Puzzled, the band leader tells her that she just sang that song. Alys becomes angry and forces him to start the music, which Alys then realizes was just played moments ago. She runs backstage exclaiming, “Nobody loves me. You just want me to fill your club.”

One day, Alys questions, “Will I live long enough to see single women make their own decisions? It’s a crime for single women to have a child.” This statement is a foreshadowing of events to come during the Quiet Revolution, a time when the power of the Catholic Church was thrown off.

“God is punishing me for my success and money,” shouts Alys one day. She is then diagnosed with hebephrenia, a form of schizophrenia. This condition explains her depression that is followed by bits of euphoria. In 1948, Alys is then committed to the St. Michel Archange Psychiatric Institute in Quebec City. While there, she receives various forms of therapy for her psychosis, including multiple electroshock therapies and a lobotomy, a procedure where nervous connections in the brain where psychological disorders are thought to originate are severed. Lobotomies were a very controversial procedure with many people having been operated on suffering death as a result. Between 1935 and 1952, some 100,000 people were lobotomized. With the introduction in the late 1960s of mood stabilizers such as lithium, treatment of manic depressives improved considerably. Before one of her electroshock therapy treatments, Alys shouts, “You want to break me, not help me, because I won’t knuckle under.” Nuns run this institution and pray furiously for a safe procedure for Alys. Also, patients at the hospital pray in Latin before going to bed.

After five and a half years in the asylum and one successful lobotomy later, Alys Robi was released and went back to performing music.


The film won 5 Jutra Awards (Quebec cinema honours). Pascale Bussières won a Genie Award (Canadian cinema honours) as Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

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