Melanie Goodfellow talks to Gabriel Arcand about his role in Sébastien Pilote’s Le Démantlement.

Canadian actor Gabriel Arcand returned to Cannes for the first time in 40 years with his lead role in French-Canadian Sébastien Pilote’s Le Démantlement which screened in Cannes Critics’ Week.

What’s your role?

I play a sheep farmer with two daughters who sells his farm and his flock to help out one of his daughters who is going through a divorce and is in financial difficulty. He ends up in a small room in the city but he is happy because he has helped his family.

I was talking to some people who’d seen the film and couldn’t understand the character’s motivations but it really depends on your perspective on life and fatherhood and what it means to be a father. I understand where he is coming from. People keep crying when they see the film. They think it’s really sad… I don’t.

How did you get the role?

When I read the script, I thought it was a beautiful script but that it was not for me at all. I’m an urban type. I know nothing about sheep or farming. I told Sébastien “It’s very beautiful and I hope you find the right guy” and suggested a few actors who might work in the role.

I went off to Japan to shoot a film but when I came back he still hadn’t found anyone and asked if I would consider the role again and I was like “Oh God, I can’t play a farmer. I don’t know how to walk like these people or jump over a gate” but we did a screen test and he was very happy.

So how did you get into character?

I spent the summer with a shepherd in the Lac-Saint-Jean area, to learn about his work and how to handle sheep. One third of the film is me dealing with sheep so if don’t like sheep don’t go to see the film… By the end I quite liked it and now I miss my sheep.  

You were last in Cannes 40 years ago, has it changed?

I was here in 1972 with my brother Denys’ first film Réjeanne Padovani in which I had a small role. I was working in a theatre in Marseilles at the time and I caught the bus to Cannes for the screening. It hasn’t changed that much apart from the fact the people are younger. There’s more money perhaps… It seems richer than it used to be… There didn’t used to be all these boats.