At first I was intrigued when I saw the link to the latest issue (Vol. 11, No. 1) of the journal Reconstruction (at wood s lot), since its theme was “Multilingual Realities in Translation.” Then I got discouraged when I turned to the Introduction and saw the epigraph “No theorization, inasmuch as it is produced in a language, will be able to dominate the Babelian performance” (by, of course, Jacques Derrida) and the first sentence “The idea of this issue is to consider the possibility of Babelian performances in the context of scholarly mediations on multilingual realities in translation,” and I almost gave up when the first two articles turned out to be “Decotitles, the Animated Discourse of Fox’s Recent Anglophonic Internationalism” (by DT Kofoed) and “Call Center Cultures and the Transnationalization of Affective Labor” (by John Muthyala). No offense if dense theory and phrases like “the Transnationalization of Affective Labor” are your meat and drink, but they’re not mine. But “Facing off: French and English in Bon Cop, Bad Cop” by Heather Macdougall sounded interesting enough to check out, and aside from the obligatory nod to Theory (“a fixed dichotomy separated by an empty void”—an empty void? what other kind could there be?), there’s some interesting background on a truly bilingual movie, apparently “the highest-grossing domestically-produced film in Canadian history”:
Patrick Huard, an established Québecois actor, first thought of the concept for a bilingual film when he was presenting at the Genies, the Canadian film awards. Relating the incident to Playback magazine, he explains,
The French-Canadians and the English were laughing at the same jokes, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I was doing a joke on the French, and the English would laugh. And the other way around. […] I was surprised, and realized that maybe there’s something that we have in common. The one thing we can laugh about together is our differences. That’s when I had a flash for Bon Cop.
…Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a Canadian version [of the formulaic odd-couple cop movie] that employs Canada’s most obvious cultural dichotomy, language, to provide a contrast between the two principal characters. David Bouchard is a hot-tempered Montreal cop who chain-smokes, drives too fast, and is always one wrong move away from being suspended; Martin Ward, by contrast, is a Toronto officer with an exemplary record, an ambition to get a desk job, and a healthy diet low in cholesterol. The two are forced to work together when a murder victim is found on the Ontario-Quebec border. …
The issue of subtitling was dealt with in Canada by making available two versions: one print that subtitled the English dialogue in French, and a second that subtitled the French in English. Interestingly, no version was struck to include subtitles in both languages thereby allowing the film to be seen by monolinguals from both communities in the same theatre. (While it was not possible in theatrical screenings, the DVD version allows bilingual viewers to switch off the subtitles completely, but again there is no option to have both languages appear in the subtitles). Separate advertising materials were also prepared in the two official languages. Both theatrical trailers emphasized the linguistic subject matter of the film, although there is a notable difference in the approach of the two versions. The English trailer, which ran under the tagline “Shoot first, translate later,” contained scenes of David speaking French-accented English and only one, clearly facetious, line of subtitled French dialogue. It would be possible, then—and perhaps this was the goal of the trailer editors—for English audiences to assume that the film would be about French Canadians without actually being in French. By contrast, the French trailer contains an almost equal number of lines in French and English, and included the slightly more conciliatory tag line “Pour une fois, les deux solitudes vont se parler … peut-être”. The marketing strategy hints at a greater acceptance of bilingualism among the French-speaking population than among the Anglophone community; this difference between the two groups is also supported within the text of the film, albeit in a more nuanced way.
There’s a detailed discussion of the use of language in the movie, with extended quotes and a blessed minimum of Theory.