After claiming four César awards, including best picture, and a Cannes jury prize with 2019’s “Les Misérables,” and co-producing last year’s Venice winner “Happening,” rising producers Toufik Ayadi and Christophe Barral have set for themselves, and for their follow-up feature, an altogether different task: Paving a new path for Quebecois talent into the French mainstream.
Co-written and directed by Nadège Loiseau (“A Bun in the Oven”), produced by Ayadi and Barral through their Srab Films banner in partnership with France 2 Cinema and Canada’s Possibles Media, and with France’s Le Pacte handling international sales, the upcoming feature “Three Times Nothing” shares much in common with traditional Gallic fare as it plucks a popular comedic star into a socially-minded story about three homeless men and a winning lottery ticket.
But the project stands apart in at a few major ways: Said star is Antoine Bertrand, one of the contemporary Quebecois cinema’s most reliable box-office draws who remains a relative unknown on the other side of the pond. And as the product of an industry that often mines difference for comedy, the film’s choice to downplay the lead’s background and accent feels all the more uncommon.
“If we build on the principle that people are better traveled now, that immigration encompasses more than just [a narrow strata of stories], then why can’t you build a story around someone from a different country,” Ayadi tells Variety. “That’s not what the film is about; it’s not a [fish out of water story]. A film can be about more than the character’s background.”
“We want to introduce the French public to an actor we adore,” adds Barral. “We’re not the only ones who love him, but we’re the first to shoot with him here.”
Bertrand played a supporting role in Loiseau’s previous film, “A Bun in the Oven” (co-produced by Srab Films), but the actor is best known for turns in hometown smashes like “Starbuck” and “Compulsive Liar.” If both titles set Quebec box-office records, such success hasn’t always translated worldwide. While “Starbuck” did make inroads in France – grossing just under $2.7 million in 2012 – “Compulsive Liar” was never picked up for release.
Both films, however, inspired French (and in the case of “Starbuck,” American and Indian) remakes. “Fonzy,” the French take on “Starbuck” came out in 2013, while the Gaumont-produced, Olivier Baroux-directed spin on “Compulsive Liar” – whose original version now stands at the 13th highest grossing Quebecois film of all time – is due out later this year.
Indeed, there exists a certain imbalance between the two poles. As France and Quebec share profound social and economic ties, when it comes to popular culture, the wind mostly blows in one direction. While festival-approved auteurs like Denys Arcand, Xavier Dolan and Denis Villeneuve have built fanbases in France, many of their colleagues from the more commercial end of the spectrum have not always found similar success. When performing in French productions, crossover Quebecois stars have often assumed the local accent as well.
“What does an accent matter?” asks Ayadi. “We want to show that we can have films that reflect French society led by actors from other countries, and vice versa.”
“It’s strange that so few Quebecois films are released in France,” he continues. “We often have to wait for the big Quebecois breakout [every few years] – and for someone to decide what that would be. We need to build more bridges between the French and Quebecois industries. We need to more naturally work Quebecois films into the French landscape.”