In early 1970s, Lise Bissonnette inherited a motel in Longueuil from her mother and renovated it into a 90-roomed boarding house for welfare recipients. Since then her clientele has changed from those who are impoverished to those who are mentally ill. With hospitals cutting beds and a lack of supervised homes, overworked caseworkers search for anywhere that will take them. Lise accepts everyone.
There are hundreds of these homes spread around Montreal. Chez Lise is one of the biggest.
A heated room with laundry and cleaning service, TV, and three meals a day costs $740 a month which is paid for from benefits. People have a key and can come and go as they please. For those who have spent time in institutions, the key is very important: it means they are free to come and go as they please.
There are no resident doctors, nurses, no rehabilitation courses, no financial aid and little supervision. Heavily sedated, the residents spend their days smoking cigarettes and watching television, isolated both physically and mentally. With no help from the government, Lise struggles to make ends meet and relies heavily on charities and volunteers.
How the film came about
Jeanne Pope and James Galwey began volunteering their time at Chez Lise in 2010 and quickly became acquainted with Deanna and her lover Gordon. Deanna had only been at the home for a matter of months but they were already the enfants terrible of the home, forever bickering and arguing and disrupting the other residents.
Initially, the idea was to make a documentary on the state of Quebec’s mental health care system using interviews with doctors and medical professionals to highlight the plight of mental health sufferers. They soon realized that the real story was not with the system but with this couple on the margins of society, trying to live a normal love affair, and their ‘mother’, Lise, looking over them.
Over the course of a couple of years, Pope and Galwey followed the three of them documenting their highs and the lows. Borrowing many fictional techniques – voice overs, the juxtaposition of soundtrack music over imagery, the inclusion of overlapping audio and a three-act structure – Chez Lise unfolds like a narrative fiction drama. There are no talking-head interviews with doctors or professionals, just the reality of Deanna, Gordon and Lise's everyday life and the struggle to get through the day.