Linguistic Duality on the Big Screen

By Marie Lebrecque

Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

When you think of bilingual Canadian movies, the first title that comes to mind is likely Bon Cop, Bad Cop. Starring Patrick Huard and Colm Feore, this is the best-known film of its kind. With one foot in each culture, set in both Ontario and Quebec, and with one Anglophone and one Francophone protagonist, the film alternates from one language to the other. “At the beginning of the film, each character speaks his own language. Gradually the two start to mix, until finally they’re starting sentences in one language and finishing them in the other, depending on the character’s emotion,” explained co-screenwriter Huard in the Montréal weekly Voir, in August 2006 (in French only). Canada’s duality was one of the themes of the film, which has fun with the cultural stereotypes of the two language communities.

The Red Violin (1998)

A Canadian-Italian-British co-production, François Girard’s The Red Violin unfolds over 300 years and in five countries. Following the journey of the mythical violin, this historical film uses the language of each country, including English and French. This contributes to the realism of the narrative and probably deserves some credit for the picture’s international success.

Le Confessionnal (1995)

The first film by director Robert Lepage, Le Confessionnal includes dialogue in English, because it tells the story of the 1952 filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess in Québec City. The unilingualism of Hitchcock’s Anglophone film crew highlights the disparity between Hollywood’s concept of the world and the closed, religious climate of Duplessis’s Québec.

Yes Sir! Madame… (1994)

In Robert Morin’s Yes Sir! Madame..., the bilingual narration reflects the hero’s identity crisis. The Acadian son of an Anglophone mother and a Francophone father, the main character is plagued by a constant internal battle between English and French. Torn between these two cultural identities, he tells his story from two sometimes diametrically opposed points of view. Morin’s film, whose working title was Double Face, is a formidable allegory for Canadian duality, with its paradoxes and conflicts.

The High Cost of Living (2010)

Following the stories of Francophone Quebec characters and an American protagonist, The High Cost of Living plays about a quarter of its scenes in French. “For me, this isn’t a political statement,” Deborah Chow told La Presse in April 2011 (in French only). “It’s simply where I live. I don’t understand how you can make a movie entirely in English in Montréal.” A native of Toronto, the director describes her first feature-length film as “a kind of love letter to Montréal,” in an interview with the Georgia Straight. “I just felt that no one had shown the Montréal I know.... I wanted to relate more of the English speaker’s view of it, especially in areas like Chinatown, which you never see in French-Canadian films.”

The Trotsky (2009)

Anglo-Quebec filmmaker Jacob Tierney had the same desire to pay tribute to his city. “I wanted, with The Trotsky, to write a love letter to Montréal, the city we know and love, from the Anglos who speak French and are part of its mosaic,” the writer and director, who grew up in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, told Le Devoir (in French only). Set in the Anglophone community, this movie also shows the French face of the city through a number of Francophone characters. It thus offers a rare opportunity to admire the work of actors from the two language communities. “The Trotsky is an attempt to reunite these two solitudes,” Anne-Marie Cadieux, one of the actors, told Le Devoir.

Funkytown (2011)

Daniel Roby’s Funkytown features a mosaic of characters from two groups: Anglophones who use the occasional French phrase, and Francophones, several of whom regularly speak English. “I wanted to show the city as it has always been,” explained screenwriter Steve Galluccio in La Presse (in French only) in January 2011. Bilingualism helped set the context of a movie set in the Montréal disco scene of the 1970s.

Published on Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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