In search of sunny days

Francophone family follows a dream

Published: Oct 17 2017, 01:01:am

Tuesday, April 12, 1994.

LA FLORIDA. Written by Suzette Couture and Pierre Sarrazin. Music by Milan Kymlicka. Directed by George Mihalka. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated 14 Years Limited Admission with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: some nudity.
LEO LESPERANCE (RÉMY GIRARD) won't be voting in this year's [1994] Québec provincial election.
    Neither he nor his wife Ginette (Pauline Lapointe) will be around for the inevitable PQ victory, the historic sovereignty referendum or the bittersweet independence day celebrations. Their votes lost to Jacques and Lucien, these middle-aged Montrealers have embraced the American dream.
    "I've seen the future," true believer Leo tells us in the opening minutes of La Florida, "and it's called Hollywood Beach."
    A little bit of French Canada in the Sunshine State, Hollywood Beach is on the Atlantic coast between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Recognizing an opportunity, Lesperance has taken early retirement from his job as a bus driver and is investing his pension money in a seaside motel.
    Filmed on location in the U.S., La Florida is an affectionate, resolutely lightweight look at Canadian emigration. Written by self-described Quebec exiles Suzette Couture and Pierre Sarrazin, the 1993 feature uses this unexpected ethnic enclave as background for a standard domestic crisis comedy.
    Playing a Quebecois Ralph Kramden is no stretch for actor Girard. Remembered for his likeable lug roles in director Denys Arcand’s French-language hits Jésus de Montréal (1989) and Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986), he has a John Candy-like sincerity as the rookie innkeeper.
    Following him into his free-enterprise promised land are his loving wife and their two skeptical offspring. Son Cyrille (Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge) quickly responds to dad's enthusiasm, becoming a managerial nightmare.
    Daughter Carmen (Marie-Josée Croze) prefers the beach, where she aspires to the Miss Bikini title at the local Snowbird Festival. An urban beauty, her charms have attracted a pair of old suitors, dimwitted Montreal brothers Rheal (Gildor Roy) and Rheaume Lariviere (Martin Drainville), to the new neighbourhood.
    A pair of bomb-throwing bumpkins seeking celebrity as petty criminals, the Larivieres use their misguided muscle to aid Leo when he becomes involved in a rivalry with Franco-American community leader Big Daddy Bolduc (Raymond Bouchard). A former hockey player and self-proclaimed "team goon," Big Daddy sees himself as the local godfather.
    Carmen finds herself an Anglophone beau in the person of Jay Lamori (Jason Blicker), a would-be yuppie with an inept manner and a mysterious agenda.
    "Guns! Explosions!" he says towards the end. "Haven't you people heard of lawyers?"
    More familiar to English Canadians will be Montreal-born actor Michael Sarrazin in a showy supporting role as lounge singer Romeo Laflamme, and Margot Kidder, cast as savvy real estate developer Vivy Lamori.
    Director George (My Bloody Valentine) Mihalka, himself a Hungarian expatriate, organizes all of these plot strands into an unassuming situation comedy. Filmgoers with fond memories of 1991’s Mississippi Masala — director Mira Nair's powerful tale of immigration and motel ownership — will be disappointed.
    So, too, those who suspect there’s a great story lurking in the competition between les canadiens and the state’s refugee Cuban population. Add in a few Francophone Haitians and the results could have been cinematic dynamite.
    Gentle folk, Mihalka and company opt for a made-for-TV backyard barbecue. Their visit to La Florida is inconsequential rather than incendiary.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1994. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword:  Canadian newspaper readers in 1994 were well aware that the “Jacques and Lucien” mentioned in the above review were Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, the party leaders seeking victory in Québec’s September 1994 provincial election. As expected, Parizeau’s sovereigntist Parti Québécois was the winner, and it made good on its promise to hold an independence referendum in October 1995. Well before the Scots, Catalans or Kurds held votes on their respective secession issues, Canadians faced the possibility of French-speaking Quebec separating from our federal state. It was close, with the "No" side polling a razor-thin 50.58 per cent majority. A generation later, la belle province is more diverse and less interested in pursuing the independence option.
    Best known internationally as Lois Lane, Clark Kent’s love interest in the first series of Superman features, Margot Kidder reunited with Michael Sarrazin, her co-star in the 1975 thriller The Reincarnation of Peter Proud to make La Florida, a film co-written and produced by Sarrazin’s brother Pierre. The picture was nominated for eight Genie awards, including best picture. It won the year’s Golden Reel Award, the prize given to the Canadian film with the highest box-office gross. In the process, it introduced a lot of British Columbians to the idea of Floribec, French Canada’s winter refuge in the southernmost U.S. state. The settlement grew in the years after this nation’s 1967 centennial celebrations, and Floribecois was added to the state’s language mix. In March 2017, a Miami Herald report noted that “there are expected to be well over 4 million Canadian tourists — snowbird and non-snowbird alike — this year in Florida, including about 1.2 million Quebecois.” It remains to be seen what effect recent extreme weather events will have on enthusiasm for retirement in the Sunshine State.

See also:  Films featuring Margot Kidder currently in the Reeling Back archive include all four Superman movies: 1978’s Superman, The Movie,  Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), as well as 1969’s Gaily, Gaily, Black Christmas (1974), Heartaches (1981) and The White Room (1990).