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Quebec’s box-office champ: Émile Gaudreault

Out filmmaker scores a massive hit with his cop-buddy feature De Père en Flic

SUCCESS. While some are sounding alarm bells about diminishing box-office receipts in Quebec, Émile Gaudreault is optimistic. "Three films from Quebec played at the Cannes film festival — that's no small thing. I think we're doing very well." Credit: depereenflic.com

The news keeps getting better for Montreal filmmaker Émile Gaudreault, the writer-director behind De Père en Flic, a cop-buddy comedy feature that is the Quebec box-office success story of the year.

The feature tells the story of a father and son, both police officers, who are forced to work together on a case, in spite of their strained relationship. The comedy opened in July and became a hit almost instantly, breaking opening weekend records in Quebec.

This month saw De Père en Flic break the $11-million mark in box office take, making it the highest-grossing French-language film in Canada, ever. In addition, Hollywood’s Sony Pictures has purchased the English-language remake rights from Gaudreault and De Père en Flic’s producer, Oscar-winner Denise Robert. The English-language version will be produced by Frank Marshall (The Bourne Ultimatum, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and Kathleen Kennedy (Schindler’s List, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

“This has been a lot of good news, and I’m very happy about it,” says Gaudreault. “I had a very good feeling while we were making the film, and I had my hopes that it would connect with an audience. It has.”

The success of De Père en Flic is sweet for Gaudreault, but it’s not the first time the 45-year-old director has made big-screen news. His 1994 film Louis 19, le Roi des Ondes, also pleased Quebec audiences, winning the Golden Reel Award at the Genies for the biggest box-office take of the year. That film’s English-language rights were also sold to a Hollywood studio, and it was remade as Edtv.

Gaudreault’s biggest success came in 2003, when he brought Steve Galluccio’s hit play Mambo Italiano to the big screen. The film was equal parts romantic comedy and family melodrama, with one young man trying to make his love life work while breaking the news to his conservative Italian family that he’s gay. Gaudreault co-wrote the adaptation with Galluccio, and although the film was shot in English, francophone Quebec audiences were not put off by watching a dubbed version — Mambo Italiano proved a hit. And it also illustrated Gaudreault’s talent for film comedy, not to mention his skill at assembling a superb cast, one that included relative newcomer Luke Kirby, seasoned vet Paul Sorvino, comic actress Mary Walsh and Technicolor dreamboat Tim Post.

Gaudreault’s next project didn’t prove as successful. He re-teamed with Galluccio in 2007 for Surviving My Mother, an off-kilter comedy about a young woman who realizes her nymphomania is connected to her strained relationship with her mother. Despite being voted the best Canadian film at Montreal’s World Film Festival, Surviving My Mother did not reach a broad audience.

Gaudreault concedes he felt the pressure with this latest project. “Since the last one didn’t really succeed, this was important.”

Gaudreault is now working on another screenplay, a comedy about two down-on-their-luck comedians who make fun of a man during their comedy routine. Unfortunately for them, the man is a serial killer, so they spend the rest of the film trying to convince him not to kill them.

While the news is good for Gaudreault, many film industry onlookers are sounding alarm bells about diminishing box-office receipts in Quebec, where years of robust success have given way to fewer and fewer bums in seats. “I don’t really agree with that,” says Gaudreault, who insists there’s plenty of room for optimism. “I think Quebec audiences have reached a certain maturity. Denis Villeneuve’s film Polytechnique took in $1.7 million at the box office, and that’s a black-and-white film about a school shooting. Three films from Quebec played at the Cannes film festival — that’s no small thing. I think we’re doing very well.”

The other huge cinematic success story out of Quebec is that of Xavier Dolan, the writer, director, producer and star of I Killed My Mother, which won three awards at Cannes. That means that two of the biggest hits to come out of Quebec’s film milieu in 2009 were the brainchildren of gay men.

“I really loved that movie,” Gaudreault says of I Killed My Mother. “I think Xavier Dolan and I are proving that the spectrum of gay imagination can be broadened.”

The English title of De Père en Flic is Fathers and Guns, and no date has been set for a release of the film in English Canada.