For a film that criticizes Franco-Manitoban culture from within, FM Youth largely misses the mark. A Stéphane Oystryk creation produced in 2014 and screened recently as part of the Gimli Film Festival, FM Youth follows three friends celebrating their last night together in St. Boniface before two depart for a fresh start in Montreal. As a Franco-Manitoban, this is a highly relatable film. Outsiders, however, may feel excluded.
The film attempts to criticize the cliqueness of Franco-Manitoban culture through conversations about how the characters never hang out with African-francophones from the community. Despite this, it fails to address their relationship to other francophones in Manitoba.
The film plays out as a sort of inside joke, with characters making references to cheesy slogans to try to entice young people to learn French and poking fun at local musician Boniface for ... not speaking French well enough?
The St. Boniface in the film is accurate, from its small-town vibe to the fact that the characters get around on bicycles. Not only is the neighbourhood small, but it also has terrible public transit options.
It’s easy to understand why Natasha (Katrine Deniset) and Charlotte (Mariève Laflèche) want to move to Montreal, where francophones don’t seem to be on the brink of extinction. The tension between francophones and anglophones is a common theme in the film, with a recurring argument between the girls and their friend Alexis (Stéphane Simard) about whether it’s worth staying in Manitoba just to try to save the culture.
The queer romance between Sam (Elena Sturk Lussier) and Natasha reminds the viewer why it’s hard to leave the comforts of your hometown and also brings the movie, which often highlights how Franco-Manitoban culture is stuck in the past, into a more progressive present.
Their rapport contrasts with the potentially incestuous relationship between Charlotte and Matthieu (André Vrignon-Tessier). Natasha jokes about how every Franco-Manitoban should carry a genealogical tree in their pocket to make sure they don’t accidentally get involved with a blood relative. It’s said lightly, but this carries a warning to the cliqueness of Franco-Manitobans: it’s time to branch out.
While the characters are hung up on Franco-Manitoban culture dying out, when approached by an anglophone descendant of Louis Riel, the girls ostracize him by loudly singing and joking in French. It’s visible on the anglophone’s face that he does not feel welcome.
To be fair, there is a reason for this attitude. A house-party scene shows an all-too-common instance of an anglophone fetishizing the French language and being upset that everyone around him is speaking French.
While it’s refreshing to hear the characters speak in a dialect of franglais, easily mixing French and English, nuances of franglais are lost through English subtitles.
Who is this movie really for? Does the film exist to show other cultures what’s happening to Franco-Manitobans, or is it for Franco-Manitobans to self-identify and take comfort?
The house-party scene, like the portrayal of St. Boniface, is comfortingly familiar, and therein lies the issue. To keep Manitoba francophone, it will take more than talking to that one African-francophone at the party.
It’s also about welcoming French-speaking Manitobans who aren’t related to you, and making the effort to speak French with an enthusiastic francophile. The message successfully relayed by Oystryk is that Franco-Manitobans need to get out of their comfort zone.
Published in Volume 75, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 12, 2020)