TORONTO - It's no surprise to learn that Emile Gaudreault, the Quebec director behind the 2003 hit "Mambo Italiano," is a big fan of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar and his female-friendly repertoire of movies.
In his latest film, "Surviving My Mother," Gaudreault delves lovingly into the intricate and fragile bonds between mothers and daughters in what seems at times like a made-in-Canada homage to Almodovar.
"He's a genius," Gaudreault, 43, said in an interview this week as he promoted his new film, opening Friday in Toronto, Ottawa and throughout Quebec.
"I think he's one of the few living, working directors who produces masterpieces. 'Talk to Her' - it's a masterpiece, and there are few movies like it."
Like Almodovar, Gaudreault adores women - and said he found himself attracted to the script for "Surviving My Mother" because of its strong female characters.
The movie, written by Steve Galluccio - who also wrote the "Mambo Italiano" script - tells the story of Clara, a middle-aged Montreal woman who's spent years tending to her cancer-stricken mother to the detriment of her husband and children.
When the dying woman tells Clara, played by Ellen David, that she wants to get to know her better during a death-bed conversation, the comment sends a stunned Clara on a mission to understand her own long-neglected daughter, the outwardly responsible but secretly wild Bianca.
"I liked that this film was about women who are not defined by their relationships with men, who are complex, who are flawed but at the same time likable," Gaudreault said. "There are so few movies with complex female characters, and there is something about the humanity of the women in this film that I really loved."
Caroline Dhavernas, a star in Quebec since childhood, says she liked that her character, the teenaged Bianca, was sympathetic despite a sordid secret life that involves, among other things, a passionate sexual affair with a priest.
"So many people have said to me she could have been a bitch or someone you didn't want to follow through the movie," Dhavernas said. "Bianca learned very young to have this double life and use her sexuality to ease the pain ... we all have families and we all have mothers that we have to survive."
Including Gaudreault himself, he confesses.
"My mother was an icon to me until I was 30, when I started my therapy," he said with a laugh.
"There is something unhealthy when you don't see your mother as a real human being but more as an icon of perfection, and you think she's not a balanced human being but she's just a projection of what you hope she is."
That's another facet of the film that Gaudreault said he liked - the desire by the characters to become more honest about who they are.
"I liked exploring that whole theme - which side of us we present to our families, to our spouses, to our friends, and at which point is it necessary to move on and become more real, more authentic."
For Dhavernas, the film represents what will likely be the last time she tries to pass herself off as a teenager. At 29, she might still look 17, but Dhavernas says she's yearning now to play characters closer to her own age.
"Especially in Quebec - people have seen my work for over 20 years, so I don't think I can pass as a 16-year-old anymore. And I don't want to - I want to play things that women go through. I need characters now to be a little older," she said.
The actress will appear in Paul Gross's film "Passchendaele," to be released in November 2008, and also starts shooting "Cry of the Owl" soon. Julia Stiles recently replaced Sarah Polley in that film.