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'Louis Cyr' biopic hailed by Telefilm Canada for strong Canadian box office

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MONTREAL - A film about the life of legendary Quebec weightlifter Louis Cyr was honoured Thursday for the strength it showed in lifting Canadian moviegoers into theatre seats last year.

"Louis Cyr: l'homme le plus fort du monde" ("Louis Cyr: The Strongest Man in the World") took in more than $4.2 million at the Canadian box office, says Telefilm Canada, winning it the federal film funding agency's Guichet d'or award.

The Guichet d'or has been awarded annually for the past seven years to the Canadian screenwriter and director of the French-language feature film with the highest box-office earnings in the previous year.

The English-language equivalent is the Golden Box Office Award, which is given out to domestic films which make at least $1 million. It was not awarded in 2013 because no film met all the criteria.

The Guichet d'or was presented Thursday at an upscale downtown health club to director Daniel Roby and screenwriter Sylvain Guy.

"A prize about success at the box office is basically love from the public," Roby said in an interview amid the fitness equipment. "It's great to get attention from people from the industry and specialists and critics and all that but to reach real people in theatres is mostly why we do films so (I'm) very happy about this prize."

He pointed out in his acceptance speech that it's tough for homegrown films to get people into theatres because many like to watch them at home when they're released digitally. Another factor is the competition from big-budget American blockbusters.

Roby took pride in the fact that "Louis Cyr" had the best box-office performance for a Quebec film in the last five years.

Guy said it's a mystery why audiences fall in love with a particular movie and filmmakers just have to do the best they can.

"And when that miracle happens and we have a hit, we shouldn't hesitate to celebrate it loud and clear."

Louis Cyr remains a folk hero to this day in Quebec and there is an imposing statue of him in Montreal.

He worked a variety of jobs but at a young age became known for feats of strength, turning into an international sensation with a career spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He died in 1912 at the age of 49.

His recorded accomplishments include lifting 227 kilograms with three fingers and carrying 1,967 kilograms on his back. Ben Weider, the former chairman of the International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness, once described him as the strongest man who ever lived.

Roby said Cyr inspired Quebecers to have confidence in themselves and know they could achieve great things when most were working at menial jobs.

"He was a major influence in his time and I thought it would be great to remind people about that today."

Antoine Bertrand, who delivers a flawless performance as the strongman, said everyone who worked on the film felt a duty to Cyr.

"We all set the bar very high," he said in an interview with two heavy weights in front of him.

"Louis Cyr was a perfectionist and he wanted to be the best so we had to ask for the best from the whole team. Everyone did that and some more."

Bertrand, who is a large man himself, said he learned about the weightlifter at an early age when his father took him to strongman competitions.

"When I was attached to this project, I had a great sense of responsibility because of the fact that we still talk about him 100 years after his death. That means he did something right and I didn't want to spoil the legend."

Bertrand underwent a demanding training regime to get into shape to recreate some of Cyr's famous stunts in the lush period film, including resisting four horses as they pull against him.

He noted it was tough to find faults in the honest Cyr's character when they were making the film. He even had to be toned down a bit so he didn't look like a god.

There was no way they could play down his impact, however.

"He made everybody proud," Bertrand said.

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