Culture  Westward, ho

Deux Frogs dans l'Ouest takes on anglo Canada

After a Winter Olympics that was heavily criticised for being Anglo-Canadian-centric, Quebec filmmaker Dany Papineau attempts through his new feature film Deux Frogs dans l’Ouest to “open our Québécois people onto the world.” Setting his film in the same location as this year’s games, Papineau raises the question of what it means to be Québécois in a predominantly anglophone nation.

Deux Frogs dans l’Ouest is a Québécois film set outside of Quebec. Marie Deschamps, a 20-year-old girl from rural Quebec, decides to drop out of CEGEP in order to travel to the mysterious, exotic land of Whistler, British Columbia, in a classic coming-of-age story. Evoking the historical colonization of our country, Marie sets off to find herself and see a side of her country that is as geographically and culturally different from her life experience as Switzerland. On the way, Marie struggles with many difficulties – such as being penniless and independent – but the greatest of these is her exhaustive effort to learn English. In Whistler, Marie meets a number of young people from various walks of life who, just like her, want to be free and adventurous, and learn something about themselves.

Deux Frogs is, to Papineau, an important and quintessential story for Quebec youth identity, as “every fall, hundreds of young Québécois migrate toward the West and end up in Whistler without a cent, with the goal of experiencing a few snowboard runs on one of the most well-known mountains in the world.” However, influenced by his own experiences, Papineau’s achievement sometimes portrays anglophone Canadians as having a tired, unsympathetic relationship with their French-speaking counterparts.

Though Marie’s travels to the West are posited as an entirely estranging and “foreign” experience, Papineau has to continually bring his audience back to a comfort zone wherein the character’s Québécois identity and means of expression are not lost. Notably, the only person who Marie has a meaningful relationship with is fellow Quebecker Jean-Francois – half bad-ass snowboarder, half gentleman who can sleep next to her without touching (unlike an advantage-taking anglo encountered earlier in the film). Even the film’s primary antagonist Gaby, a spoiled and moody roommate, is able to converse in French. Gaby straddles the French and anglo worlds, as well as many others (she is immediately identified by Jean-Francois as “bilingual, bisexual, and bipolar”) yet can’t truly connect with either of the ever-modest Quebecois who she lusts for in the end. Being “bi” – through language or sexuality – only leaves Gaby sad and alone in the end.

This heteronormative narrative is at play throughout Deux Frogs dans l’Ouest. With such naivety that would astonish my eight-year-old cousin, Marie mistakes her new gay roommate Brad’s rainbow pride flag, asking “Which country are you from?” Later, Marie feels inspired to explore her sexuality, immersing herself in a sexual relationship with Gaby (complete with a ratings-boosting topless lesbian sex scene), but eventually refuses her in favour of Jean-Francois, who isn’t always trying to have sex with her. With Brad’s open gayness carefully sanctioned off and Gaby’s incessant sexual moves on the mostly-straight Marie, the film’s attempt at inclusivity borders on homophobic.

With a premise that has the potential for a great film that explores a number of important issues in contemporary Canada, in the end, Deux Frogs is about as entertaining as a made-for-TV teen flick without really exploring the linguistic and cultural dynamics between anglophone and francophone Canadians.