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Bell’s Rencontres spotlights life in Toronto’s French-speaking enclave

Some of the most interesting programming available in Canada is coming out of Bell Fibe TV1. The local On Demand channel has debuted stuff like the comedy Touring T.O. and has quickly become the space for folks to break into television.

The latest program to debut on Bell Fibe TV1 is Rencontres. Debuting Friday with all 10 episodes available, Rencontres is a curious little project about what Toronto looks like through the view of the city’s lesser-known Francophone community. OK, I’ve lived in Toronto for almost two decades and I had no clue there was a Francophone community in the city. Mais oui, according to award-winning directing, writing and producing duo Brennan Martin and Florian François—François also stars as the series’ lead—and they are a vibrant, vocal group. The pair expanded their award-winning short film of the same name into the series, intent on showcasing a city that usually stands in for another location.

“We want Rencontres to be an entertaining tribute to the Greater Toronto Area and its diversity through the eyes of a tourist discovering the city,” François said in a press release. “There are so many films and series shot here, but so few that actually incorporate the city itself.” With locations like Christie Pits Park, Kensington  Market and Stouffville showcased, Rencontres certainly does that.

In the debut 11-minute instalment, we’re quickly introduced to Laura (Mylène Theriault) a homeless woman who frantically searches the bushes for her bag before confronting Jen, who she accuses of stealing it. Frustrated, Laura goes to a local park and sings for money in her native language … until folks refuse to give her cash. She may say “tabernac” to fellow Francophones but uses the all-understood f-shot for everyone else. (There are English subtitles, but my Grade 13 French served me well.)

Meanwhile, Sebastien (François) a French tourist, arrives at the airport and, right from the get-go, has trouble asking if he’s in the right spot to catch the downtown bus.

“So you speak French in the air but not on the ground here…?” Sebastien says to an anglophone buried in his cell phone. It’s a funny line, but a poignant one too. Where else but aboard a Canadian airline or on a highway sign do you see French outside of Quebec? He steps off the subway into bright sunlight and enters a park, taking photos of his surroundings. It’s there the title of the series—Rencontres (“encounters” or “meetings”)—makes sense. The chance to speak his mother tongue with someone results in the pair bonding over food, language and music.

Rencontres is sweet, funny and definitely worth a look. I was entertained by Laura and Sebastien’s Episode 1 encounter and it gave me a unique outlook on the city I’ve called home for close to 20 years. And I used my high school French to fine effect!

Rencontres debuts Friday, Sept. 1, on Bell Fibe TV1.