Stéphane Lafleur’s Viking had not been released at the end of September, when it became only the tenth Quebec film in history to be rated 2 (remarkable) by Médiafilm. The highest honor of the venerable body with grade 1 (masterpiece), which is only awarded after 20 years.
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The reviews agreed. My colleague Marc-André Lussier spoke of a “height exercise mastered from start to finish”. “Stéphane Lafleur hones his unique style from film to film. Viking, his fourth, is his most accomplished in every respect,” wrote François Lévesque in Le Devoir. “Viking is a great success,” summarized Maxime Demers in Le Journal de Montréal.
Viking was named one of the Top 10 Canadian Films of 2022 by the Toronto International Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. Each of Stéphane Lafleur’s four feature films was also selected for one of the four largest festivals in the world: Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto.
When I met him last fall, the filmmaker admitted to me that he hopes to gain a wider audience with his new film, while being clear on the state of cinema in theaters in 2022 if we don’t see the sequel show from Top Gun or Avatar…
“I dare hope that with this film we’ll expand the audience a bit,” he confided. The suggestion is a bit minor, but if people focus on it, I think they can find something to take advantage of. When people bother…
Let’s talk numbers. Rating 2 from Médiafilm, 8.5/10 from La Presse, four stars from Le Journal de Montréal, four and a half stars from Le Devoir. How many people bothered to see Viking in the cinema? Fewer than 20,000 people, according to the Quebec Statistics Institute. One wonders if the critics would have done better to say, “Above all, don’t go! »
Some 20,000 viewers are already more than the number of people who saw Charlotte Le Bon’s award-winning Falcon Lake, which won France’s prestigious Louis Delluc award for first film, the equivalent of Goncourt’s debut work.
Even the most mediocre Quebec soap operas draw 50 times more viewers than the most notable Quebec films. And ten times more viewers than the most popular Quebec films.
This was not always the case. Of the 20 films that attracted the most Quebecers to the cinemas between 1981 and 2021, 6 were filmed here: Séraphin, un homme et son sin (1.34 million viewers), Bon Cop, Bad Cop (1.32 million), From Father to Cop (1.24), The Great Seduction (1.19), Les Boys (1.12) and Les Boys 2 (1.03). Viewer ratings comparable to the most popular Quebec series and soap operas.
In comparison, of the 20 top-grossing films in 2022, only one is from Quebec (December 23) in a variety of Hollywood productions. “It’s clear that it’s American cinema, with 84% of the admissions [meilleur résultat depuis 2016]which will come into force again in 2022,” Claude Fortier, coordinator of the Quebec Culture and Communication Observatory, told me this week.
This is hardly surprising given that many blockbuster releases have been postponed during the pandemic. But that’s not reassuring either. The 10 most popular Quebec movies of all time were all released between 1997 and 2009. What has changed since then? Netflix launched in Canada in 2010…
The popularity and proliferation of online platforms has fundamentally changed cinema consumption habits. Of course, the pandemic and now inflation have done nothing to reverse this strong trend. The phenomenon is also global.
Everywhere, more and more people are going to the cinema because of its thrill appeal. For the wow effect that fills eyes and ears, that explodes and thunders. For the added value of image and sound on the big screen, special effects, impressive stunts, blue giants in the ocean and F-22s in the sky.
American cinema has the means for its ambitions that Quebec cinema does not have in such matters. Moreover, for what is less visible to the naked eye, for more intimate or less spectacular films, there is an expression that sums up the fact that fewer people go to the cinema today: the comfort of home. And too bad for Sara Mishara’s great cinematography in Viking.
In such a context, how can Quebec cinema reach out to the public? On Friday I read my colleague Émilie Côté’s very interesting dossier on the subject and I said to myself that it is not enough for a film to be good to bring audiences to the cinemas.
Quebec cinema was great in 2022 across a variety of genres. From Rafaël Ouellet’s Arsenault & Fils to Luc Picard’s Confessions, the second most popular Quebec film of the year, which drew about a million fewer people than The Great Seduction 20 years ago…
We won’t see the growth we saw in the early 2000s, when Quebec cinema’s market share continued to grow, rising from 4.5% to a record 18.2% in six years. We no longer consume cinema like we did in 2005. The model is broken. We can remain or we can adapt.
We need to reach the viewers where they are, not just the youngsters. There will always be cinephiles like me who prefer to see most films in the cinema. But we are a tiny minority.
The biggest challenge facing cinema in Quebec is its “discoverability”, as audiovisual experts say. Quebec movies are drowning in a sea of essentially American content on platforms that are also American.
“If you can’t beat them, join them,” they say on Sunset Boulevard. Without making a deal with the devil, we need to make sure platforms like Netflix, Prime Video and Crave present Quebec movies that need to be made available faster.
Quebec platforms need to do more themselves to promote Quebec cinema. Recent films rarely stick with Club Illico and Tou.TV. In particular, public service television, Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec, must play a more prominent role. Radio-Canada, which abandoned the Quebec Cinema Gala, has still not decided on a new program format to “contribute to the impact of local cinema,” as it announced in October.
Coming back to the numbers, if we added up the viewers who saw a Quebec film in theaters over the past year, we wouldn’t arrive at the average viewership for the gala, which Radio-Canada no longer broadcasts. And yet, 30 years from now, what will we remember that shaped Quebec culture the most in 2022: Vikings or discussions with my parents?
Why do you appreciate Quebec cinema or why does it leave you indifferent?