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En français, please!

by Elizabeth Mackay October 4, 2011

Kevin Tierney’s characters in French Immersion get schooled in the oui’s and non’s of French, whether they like it or not.

Who knew French homework could be funny? It turns out, Kevin Tierney did. In his directorial debut, French Immersion, the award-winning producer of Bon Cop, Bad Cop employs slapstick humour to tackle the sensitive subject of language in Quebec.
This bilingual comedy follows four Anglo-Canadians and a New Yorker to a fictitious village in Northern Quebec, St-Isidore-du-Coeur-de-Jésus. They are enrolled in a French immersion program and isolated from the English-speaking world.
The anglophones quickly discover that the town’s entire population (all 2,000 people – 1,999 of whom share the surname “Tremblay”) is in on their program, and any spoken English is interrupted with a loud “EN FRANÇAIS!”
The adults are thrown back into summer camp days, learning French in class, on field trips, school buses and in the homes of their French-speaking host families.
French Immersion boasts an all-Canadian cast, including Corner Gas’ Fred Ewanuick, This Hour Has 22 Minutes comedian Gavin Crawford and Jacob Tierney, the director’s son, who directed and starred in The Trotsky and Good Neighbours. Mixing francophone and anglophone talent breathes life into a genuine on-screen culture clash.
Bobby (Crawford) is a politician from Newfoundland and Labrador looking to run for prime minister; Cathy (Martha Burns) is undercover with the RCMP; Aretha (Olunike Adeliyi) is an airline stewardess; Colin (Ewanuick) is a divorced mailman from Alberta looking to get ahead at work; Jonathan (Jacob Tierney) is a New York City chef. The juxtaposition of big personalities in a small town environment also provides the laughs.
Relationships flourish between people that wouldn’t be friends under usual circumstances. French Immersion begins as a goofy comedy in the vein of Rat Race and National Lampoon, and ends heartwarmingly as a lesson of what can be accomplished when people work together.
The film is a tad predictable, but solid performances from the cast and kooky characters and situations make for awkward but hilarious situations. Adeliyi shines as the Jamaican-Canadian stewardess who swears she can speak French, “it’s just no French people understand me.”
The movie approaches a politically uncomfortable subject with ease and executes it hilariously. Learning a language as an adult is no joke, and you don’t need to be from Quebec or even Canada to get it. The film is in Canada’s both official languages, and is fully subtitled for viewers who are not bilingual.
French Immersion delivers laughs and is great, light-hearted fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it opens the discussion on language barriers in Canada and encourages the learning and practicing of English and French, but does not scold those who are not bilingual. Whether you are a Montrealer or a Montréalais, French Immersion will hit close to home.

French Immersion opens Oct. 7 at AMC Forum, 2313 Ste-Catherine St. W.

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