’French Immersion’ film pokes fun at Canadian language divide between cultures

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ST-CESAIRE, Que. — Fred Ewanuick came to Quebec to work on the new comedy “French Immersion,” but he admits he has a few concerns after trying to speak Canada’s other official language.

“Everyone’s too nice,” says the Vancouver native who stars on CTV’s “Dan For Mayor.”

Quebecers switch to English the minute they figure out he’s more comfortable in the language of Shakespeare, he says, noting he did learn the French for “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” before coming to the province.

But the experience of being in Quebec has left him hungry for more and he’s vowed to learn French.

“I have to become Canadian fully and accept my French side,” he says with a wide smile.

Misunderstanding — both linguistically and culturally — is played for laughs in “French Immersion,” which comes from some of the same minds behind the hit cop comedy “Bon Cop, Bad Cop.”

“French Immersion,” which is slated to premiere on July 1, 2011, will be presented in the same way as “Bon Cop, Bad Cop,” with characters speaking to each other in their own languages and subtitles being used when necessary.

“French Immersion” looks at a group of Anglos who come to a rural Quebec town to learn the language of Moliere, with  students and teachers alike getting a bit of an education.

While some of the Anglos in the cast are picking up some French, francophones say they’re learning their home province has a thriving language instruction industry that, frankly, isn’t discussed much.

They also say they didn’t know French immersion is so prized outside the borders of Quebec.

Karine Vanasse (“Polytechnique”), who plays earnest teacher Julie Tremblay, notes one scene where Ewanuick’s postal worker character tells her he needs to learn French to get a promotion, even though there’s no one in his town who speaks French.

“I don’t think in Quebec we’re quite conscious of that reality in the English part of Canada,” she said.

“We don’t really know that people have to go and do that if they want a better salary or whatever. It’s going to be good for the Quebec audience also to maybe have a completely different point of view on that.”

Pascale Bussieres, who plays language school owner Sylvie Tremblay, agrees, saying the movie’s concept gave her food for thought.

“It opened my eyes to the perception that the English-Canadian can have on our French culture, what strikes them, what sticks out, what do they see, what do they feel. It’s interesting to have this.”

The mood on the set that day was friendlier than in the Quebec legislature, where politicians were heatedly debating  new language legislation, but actors believed the touchy subject of language was being handled well in the film.

“It’s a heavy subject but treated as a comedy,” said singer-actor Robert Charlebois, who plays a senator in the movie. “It’s deep and profound. It’s an intelligent satire on politics and society.”

Ewanuick compared “French Immersion” to the classic Cold War comedy “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” where a tiny U.S. town is visited by the crew of a lost Soviet sub.

The heat of Quebec’s ongoing language debate was also not lost on the producers and writers of the film but producer-director Kevin Tierney says the subject is a natural.

“Thousands and thousands of people in both cultures have lived through this experience,” he said. “How come we haven’t made this movie (before)?”

And, he adds, “It’s rife with comic possibility.”

Jefferson Lewis, who co-wrote the film, says it has only one message — “Lighten up.”

He got the idea for the film years ago when he talked to his sister after she had returned from an immersion course in Jonquiere, Que.

“She started telling me the stories of her two weeks of total immersion and I found it so funny and so touching that I thought it’s got to be made into a movie,” he said.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be all sugar and no spice, however.

“My feeling is that we should put at the end of the movie, ’If there’s anyone we haven’t offended, please contact us and we’ll do our best to offend you in the sequel’ because part of the game is everybody laughs at everybody.”

Geographic location: Quebec, Canada, Vancouver U.S. Jonquiere, Que

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