Like Anglophone Canada’s home-grown movie industry (which is dispersed between Vancouver, Toronto, and other cities), Montréal’s home-grown movie industry (Montréwood) is in competition with foreign movies for box office sales. Where Montréwood greatly differs, however, is the success it has at the box office with the Francophone public, and the critical acclaim and international awards it receives. Hollywood films, like in English Canada, continue to earn the larger part of showings and box-office revenue in Québec, but they are in active competition with Montréwood movies (Hollywood movies generally do not face much competition from Anglophone Canadian movies, which tend to be held in special or niche viewings across Canada).
These dynamics make it so the best grossing Canadian movies, year-on-year, in historical contexts, and in terms of record numbers, are Francophone movies.
Because very few regions outside of the US have the movie industry infrastructure, funding, and domestic market size to produce movies in the tens of millions of dollars, very few other places produce movies with the special effects or sensational scenes we’re accustomed to seeing in Hollywood movies. Québec and Montréwood are no exception.
Without having elaborate special effects or sensational scenes, what then is the attraction of Québec movies? Why are they so popular with the Francophone public?
- Language is of course the most obvious and simple answer – people tend to like watching movies in their own language, especially if they’re good.
- That leads to the second answer… Montréwood has produced a stream of great movies over the decades.
- Québec has some great directors and producers who have become famous in their own right.
- When, as a people, you know your movies are receiving acclaim and are good, it instils a sense of pride and nationalism, and you continue to support your movie industry.
- This leads us back to the first answer… when language is a competitive advantage in itself, foreign films have more difficulty getting in, local movies make more money with which to reinvest in more productions, the cycle repeats, and momentum builds. (Language is not a barrier to Hollywood movies from infiltrating the rest of Canada, regardless how good English Canadian movies may be or how much acclaim they also receive).
Montréwood movies are generally devoid of horror, science fiction, martial arts, violent action movies, or grandiose special-effects. So what does this leave us with then? Well, in general terms, we can place Québec movies on a scale, with movies falling onto the populist side (dramas and comedies with wide-ranging appeal to the public), and the others falling on the more abstract side (non-conventional, abstract artistic, or even bordering on bizarre in the extreme cases). Movies on all ends of this spectrum have won acclaim, national and international awards.
The populist side, those which fall into dramatic or comedy, have easy-to-understand plots which find empathy and understanding from the public — matched with the box-office earnings to reflect that appeal. Some are brilliantly written, and earn prestigious awards. There are still some wonderful films which have not earned the highest awards, but which still managed to draw large audiences and box-office sales.
Some of the more note-worthy, award-winning films in the drama category are (name, year, type, director):
- Les Invasions Barbares (2003, drama, Denys Arcand)
- Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986, drama, Denys Arcand)
- Mon oncle Antoine (1971, drama, Claude Jutra)
- Jésus de Montréal (1989, drama, Denys Arcand)
- Les bons débarras (1980, drama, Fancis Mankiewicz)
- Les Ordres (1974, drama, Michel Brault)
- Incendies (2010, drama, Denis Villeneuve)
- Monsieur Lazhar (2011, drama, Philippe Falardeau)
- Mommy (2014, drama, Xavier Dolan)
- Un Zoo la nuit (1987, drama, Jean-Claude Lauzon)
- C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005, drama, Jean-Marc Vallée)
Some of the most note-worthy, award-winning films in the comedy category are (name, year, type, director):
- Les Boys (1997, comedy, Louis Saïa)
- La grande séduction (2003, comedy, Jean-François Pouiot)
- Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006, comedy, Éric Canuel)
- De père en flic (2009, comedy, Émile Gaudreault)
Some of the most notable films which I believe can fall into the non-conventional, abstract category are:
- Un crabe dans la tête (2001, André Turpin)
- Maelström (2000, Denis Villeneuve)
- Le Violon Rouge (1998, François Girard)
- J’ai tué ma mère (2009, Xavier Dolan)
Quebec has its own film awards. Together, the two main awards make up two highly anticipated nights of the year. They are broadcast on television, and have the red-carpet, star-studded, glitz, glamour, tuxes and gowns that you would expect to see of a premier awards event. Although there are differences in the nomination and award process, the award categories are similar to the Juno (Canada) and Academy (US) awards.
- Les Prix Félix (the Felix Awards).
- Les Prix Jutra (the Jutra Awards).
Some particularities of Montréwood films:
- There is a reason why I wrote directors` names after the above movies. Some of most decorated directors become Montréwood celebrities in their own right, and become quite popular on the star circuit (talk shows, interviews, other venues). Perhaps, in relative terms, Québec directors become much more popular in Montréwood than what Los Angeles directors become in Hollywood. They earn a loyal following, and their next movies are highly anticipated by the public. Some of the above directors will frequently be seen or discussed on television. It’s good to get to know who they are, because you’ll see them often.
- Montréwood movies can generally be found in regular movie theatres, along side Hollywood movies.
- Québec movies regularly find their way into major international film festivals around the world (Cannes, TIFF, Sundance, etc.), and some of the above mentioned movies have won some of the highest prizes at those festivals.
- Hollywood movies, when shown in French, tend to be dubbed, rather than sub-titled (whereas many other parts of the world prefer to sub-title Hollywood movies rather than dub them). Why dubbing instead of sub-titling, it’s just a cultural quirk with French movies on both sides of the Atlantic, both in Québec and France. Dubbing of movies in Québec is often done in a standard, accent-neutral French, using a Québec voice. Because it is standardized without the informalities you’d hear on the street (in Joual for example), it sometimes comes across as rather dry (think of the following example: the original English line in the movie is “Yo Homie! What’s hangin’!”, said with a very strong regional US accent… but in the French dubbed movie, it becomes “Hello Friend! How might you be today?” with no accent, said in a newscaster-type voice. Quite the dry mood-killer, right?). There may be the odd situation when a Hollywood movie shown in Québec has been dubbed into French from France… but I don’t believe it’s well appreciated by the public and isn’t the norm. However, economics are economics, and it costs money to make two different dubbing accents for the same language. Some argue this practice is pure laziness and disrespect for the local audience. (Laziness? Good business sense? I’ll let you be the judge). While on the topic of dubbing, one quirky piece of triva is that because Jodi Foster also speaks French, she dubs herself in her own movies (that must be a strange experience!).
For further fun… The movies I mentioned above are all award winners. I’d invite you to watch two or three. If you’re in Québec, Acadia or Francophone Eastern & Northern Ontario, see what Montréwood movie is playing at the theatre, grab some friends, and make an evening of it. It’s a great window into Québec’s film industry. If you have the chance to catch the Jutra or Félix awards, watch for the Jutras on TV the end of March, and the Félix the end of October (2014 will be 26 October) — they’re shown across Canada. Grab a bag of pop-corn and enjoy the show!
(open commons photo credit: Nigel Howe)
For an additional backgrounder on Québec cinéma, refer to the post on Denys Arcand and the three eras of Québec film: Denys Arcand: A quick Québec film industry backgrounder (#189)