Subtitles and the two loneliness: Could this be the watershed moment for Quebecois television?

Mélissa Bédard, Ève Landry and Florence Longpré appear in Can You Hear Me?Lent by Netflix

Over the past few months, hundreds of millions of Netflix subscribers have made the South Korean drama Play squid the streaming giant’s most watched show. Its overwhelming success follows a recent rise for subtitled foreign-language TV series spread by far-reaching streamers (see Lupine, Money robberyand dozens of other examples). So in a bilingual country like Canada, could this also be a landmark moment for homemade Quebecois series?

The days when Canadian television was considered second-rate, or worse, to American food, are increasingly a thing of the past, thanks to the global success of programs such as Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s convenience, and the latest CBC comedy In a way, which is currently breaking through in the US on HBO Max. But prestigious Canadian television is available in both official languages, though large parts of Canada are not fully aware of it.

“Once you overcome that one inch high barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing movies,” he said. Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho when he received his Oscar in 2020. These words sound true in Montreal, where there have always been English boosters of Quebecois TV. The offer is more than varied: from the innovative time travel drama Plan B for the time-spirited sketch comedy series Like-Moi! and Quebec’s addictive version of the reality candy Come and eat with me, justified An almost perfect dinner (“an almost perfect dinner”). But even though these series get rave reviews in their home province, they are only available in French and French: no subtitles or English dubs are offered.

Encouraging people to come to Quebec for entertainment requires English access. Fortunately, some of the best shows are slowly becoming available to the English audience. Can you hear me? (Can you hear me?), is an example. A program about the lives of three girlfriends struggling to make ends meet in Montreal. It’s a critically acclaimed series that is now available subtitled on Netflix Canada. There’s also the excellent 1970s Sainte Foy-set comedy-crime thriller That’s how I love you (Happily married), which can be viewed in a subtitle version on Amazon Prime Video Canada as well as CBC Save.

C’est comme ça que je t’aime takes place in a quiet suburb of Quebec City in 1974.Lent by CBC Gem

Annie Sirois, partner and producer of Trio Orange, the Montreal-based production company behind Can you hear me?, does not deviate from the Netflix factor. “Of course we’re won awards, which is important to the industry, but what has really made a difference is that the show is on Netflix,” she said in an interview.

While Netflix has not yet made ratings for Can you hear me? available, says Pascale Renaud-Hébert, one of the series’ writers and actors, that viewers’ reaction comes from far and wide, as the series has been translated into dozens of languages, and “people say, ‘I watched the series because it’s on Netflix – it was easier. ‘”

Jenna Bourdeau, senior director of acquisitions for CBC and CBC Gem, said in a statement that CBC is committed to Quebec content and subtitles, which the network considers “the purest, most authentic experience rather than dubbing.” Availability of Happily married on CBC Gem has meant that in addition to viewers in France and Germany, where the show has garnered critical acclaim, author-actor François Létourneau’s show is available to viewers across Canada.

Like the work of the acclaimed playwright Michel Tremblay, whose acting through translation brought Quebecois’ life and language to the world, from the 1960s, there is the opportunity to give this access to a new generation and a new medium. Létourneau’s show is, as he puts it, “very Quebecois, but specific and genuine. People can relate to it even if they do not know the culture.”

And Renaud-Hébert will also present something that shows the reality: “One thing that was very clear to us in the beginning was that we were bored that we only saw ‘white TV’,” she says, referring to the general . lack of representation on Quebec programs. “As if all people are wealthy and middle class. We wanted to show a different side of reality that we tend to ignore. “

In addition to providing insight into a particular Quebecois experience, both programs are evidence of a thriving industry willing to experiment. Producer Sirois is clear: “I think the scene in Quebec is really alive. There are many good creators and strong writers. We are not afraid to try different things – we have good partners in our broadcasters to try different things. “It’s happened before. It’s a small market, but people love television in Quebec.”

English viewership may be low, but Létourneau believes it “goes both ways”, reflecting: “People in Quebec do not know what is being done in English Canada. So it’s like we’re worried about what we do, and then we worry about the United States. ” There should also be more collaboration between CBC and Radio Canada, he says. “Maybe it’s time we create some bridges between us,” says Renaud-Hébert, “I think it’s developing positively – people are becoming more comfortable watching programs with subtitles. I see that in the future we may have more exchanges between French and English Canada. “

This seems to be under way. When Netflix celebrated 10 years in Canada this summer, they announced an expansion of the platform’s French-Canadian film offering. As for TV, producer Tara Woodbury, recently from the bilingual content and distribution company Sphere Media, joined Netflix Canada this month and is tasked with developing and ordering script series in both official languages. Netflix already provides a model where you can watch a large selection of programs from around the world. “I watch series in Danish, in Portuguese, in English – it does not matter,” says Renaud-Hébert, “I just put the subtitles on.”

Increased access via platforms and subtitles is not only good for people who love to watch good TV. As Sirois emphasizes, it’s good for everyone: “We can be exposed to shows more and more – having access to all the programs around the world really raises the bar for all programs. It makes everything better. “

Sign up to The Globe’s art and lifestyle newsletters for more news, columns and advice in your inbox.

.

Give a Comment