Letter from Montreal

November 12, 2014By Paris UpdateFarther Afield

French Invade
Other Side of Pond


Fred Fresh singing “Y’a Trop de Français sur le Plateau.”

Eastern seaboarders who need a Gallic fix of the celluloid kind and can’t make a trip to France will want to check out Cinemania, a festival of new French films held in Montreal every November. Founded by Montrealer Maidy Teitelbaum 20 years ago, it has become one of the most popular platforms for the launch of French films in North America.

The festival, which continues through November 16, has a lovely “ciné-club” atmosphere, with crowds of Francophones, Francophiles and cinephiles breaking out into spontaneous discussion as they queue up under heat lamps in the cool fall Quebec weather. The venue, the Cinéma Imperiale, is everything a film lover gets nostalgic about: an ornate mid-19th-century theater with plush red-velvet seats, balconies and good views from every seat.

All films are in French with English subtitles. This year’s edition includes Cannes hits and controversies, and many North American premieres, including Bird People (directed by Pascale Ferran), Les Combattants (Thomas Cailley), Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) and Gemma Bovary (Anne Fontaine).

Montreal itself has a very “français de France” flavor these days as more and more Parisians and other French settle in the city, the second largest French-speaking metropolis in the world. To paraphrase Mark Twain, who said you couldn’t throw a stone in Montreal without hitting a church, these days you can’t bump into someone on the street without hearing a very Parisian-accented “Oh, pardon!” rather than the more Québecois “Oh, excuse!”

Drawn by economic possibilities, less rigid codes de conduits and an artist-friendly environment (read cheap rents), their presence is especially noticeable in Montreal’s Plateau, a bobo neighborhood where one in four residents is supposedly from France. There is even a song called “Y’a Trop de Français sur le Plateau” (“Too Many French People on the Plateau”), that’s a hit on YouTube with both expats and native Québecois.

Their presence is being tasted, too, as more and more French restaurants, cafés and especially boulangeries and pâtisseries open, adding another gustatory layer to an already food-obsessed city. These aren’t just standard French bakeries with oversize croissants to suit North American standards but truly artisanal spots like Pâtisserie Au Kouign Amann, with Breton specialties, and the Provençale bakery Marius et Fanny, both on Rue Mont Royal, and the sublime Pâtisserie Christian Faure on the Place Royale, whose owner, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (an award for those at the top of their profession), makes some of the best sweet treats on either side of the Atlantic.

Karen Burshtein

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