Salut de Québec!
This writer is presently on a five-week program attempting to learn French in La Belle Province. Part of this program is the cultural experience, which for me amounts to the consumption of poutine – french fries with cheese curds and gravy – and Unibroue and Boréale beer. (How jealous are you, TC? Editor’s Note: Very jealous, Andy. Do you know how much Unibroue costs down here?) However, the animateurs – those in charge of giving us things to do and making sure we speak only French – program Québecois films for our viewing pleasure and cultural benefit. Last night, they screened us a brilliant Canadian picture called Bon Cop Bad Cop. I pray the reader will forgive any factual inaccuracies as a result of my inability to understand all of the film, being that it was screened in French with French subtitles. The film is generically predictable: an action comedy cop-buddy movie in the Lethal Weapon/Beverly Hills Cop vein. As a result, the film is a fun ride with plenty of action and great dialogue and a pretty sweet sex scene.
But beyond that, this film is about the fragile Canadian identity and the tension between French and English Canada. It begins with a killing and a body found perched on a sign. The sign reads “Welcome to Ontario” on the east side and “Bienvenue au Québec” on the side facing west. Instead of calling in the federal police, two provincial cops, one from Toronto and the other from Montréal, partner up to solve the case. What follows is a commentary on creeping Americanization, hockey, and what it means to be Canadian.
The picture is a production of the National Film Board of Canada and, from cursory observational statistics, is 50% English and 50% French. Both detectives are bi-lingual but the two set rules very early on that in Quebec, they speak French and in Ontario, they speak English. At the start of the picture, Martin Ward, the Ontarian, and David Bouchard, the Quebecois, appear to be irreconcilably different. Ward is “typical” English-Canadian: by-the-book, straight-laced, well-mannered, bound to the job and stifling. Bouchard is your “typical” French-Canadian: loose-lipped, passionate, fiery, bound to his family and irresponsible. The nature of the killer they are pursuing, expounded below, brings the two together and allows them to recognize that they have more in common than they thought.
The killer sought by Bouchard and Ward is on a mission. He kills in grisly fashion all those Canadians who affront the unofficial national sport, hockey, by selling it to the Americans. (Interesting side note, the official national sport of Canada is box lacrosse, a token gesture in the direction of our Native compatriots) The film is not able to use any names but the man who traded “the Great One” to “LA” is one of these targets. The man who sold “the team from Quebec to Colorado” is another. Regarding this last victim, Bouchard has little sympathy. Ward is quick to point out, however, that the team won “the Cup” in their first season in Colorado. The detectives learn that a man by the name of Buttman is to be the magnum opus in the killer’s repetoire and set about stopping him.
As Ward and Bouchard attempt to stop the final killing, we discover that hockey is merely a symbol for a fragile Canadian identity. The film seems to say that we in Canada have this culture that is constantly under threat – like the rest of the world – from the American homogenizing influence. Current NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, whose mandate was to make ice hockey more palatable for Americans used to the NBA or Major League Baseball, is clearly the model for Buttman. While the film does not advocate killing Buttman/Bettman, they certainly have little sympathy for what he aims at doing. As the audience and characters in the film discover that their identity is at risk and French and English Canada merge to keep it intact. There is even the act of unity exhibited throughout the film in various physical manifestations. Ward attends Bouchard’s daughter’s ballet recital and flirts with his ex-wife. Bouchard sleeps with Ward’s sister and bonds with his son over exaggerated stories about getting shot.
What we have when it’s all said and done is a fairy tale about how Canada should be acting in the face of creeping Americanization. Obviously, going crazy and killing those Canadians who “defect” is not acceptable. But, the film makes it clear that these people who do go crazy may have a point. And it’s up to all of us, English and French Canadians, to work together to keep Canada the bi-lingual, multi-cultural and distinctly Canadian place that it is. Such a moral message is hardly surprising given the NFB as a body reports to Parliament in Ottawa and receives public funds with the mandate that it represent Canadian culture.
Of course there is the lack of representation of the West or the Maritimes and, as ever, the neglect of aboriginal Canadians. But this is par for the course and including these populations would have muddled the film. As it is, the film is an entertaining buddy movie with plenty of good explosions and gunfights, etc. But at its core, this film is by Canadians and for Canadians with plenty of references to Canadian culture. It’s a warning, a suggestion, and an affirmation of this important but insecure identity.