Can francophone Quebecers relate to a pair of Jewish guys who endlessly discuss what Judaism means in today’s world—and in Yiddish no less?
The comedy duo Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman are banking on just that, given that Jewish and francophone Quebecers share never-ending angst over their respective identities, and an appreciation for irreverent humour.
Their hit web series YidLife Crisis, launched in 2014, has at last been subtitled in French and is making its premiere mondiale during Les Rendez-vous Québec Cinéma, the pre-eminent festival for films made in the province.
“After travelling around the world the past few years as sort of ambassadors for Jewish Montreal, we are excited to finally be able to present YidLife Crisis to our fellow Quebecers right here in the city, in their language, even if it means we have to get out of our comfort zone,” said Batalion.
The French version of the three seasons of the fictional series, comprising 16 short episodes, will be available free of charge globally on YidLifeCrisis.com and YouTube after the festival ends on April 30.
The world premiere takes place at the Cinémathèque Québécoise on April 23, with a screening of a few of the episodes and the duo on stage testing their “anglophone Côte St. Luc” French before what they hope will be a mixed audience that gets to know each other better.
“Francophones will probably assume my Yiddish is better than my French, but, for sure, all anglophones will understand my French,” said Batalion.
YidLife Crisis in the running for a festival prize.
As it coincides with the end of Passover, the evening concludes with a hametz-heavy nosh and entertainment by klezmer-fusion musician Josh “SoCalled” Dolgin.
Batalion and Elman wrote the series and star as Leizer and Chaimie, odd-couple friends in their 30s who entirely in the Yiddish they learned at Bialik High School literally chew over what being Jewish means to them. Almost all the action takes place in a restaurant.
Leizer is the neurotic, cerebral one who holds to tradition, embracing Judaism for its religious observance, while laid-back Chaimie dismisses ritual and superstition, arguing for a Jewish cultural renewal. A love of eating is apparently the main glue that binds them.
Theirs is a rapid-fire repartee and, due to its edginess, the series is rated for ages 18+.
The English-subtitled series has had over 3 million views, and earned a number of accolades, including four Canadian Screen Awards nominations, and been spun off into films and live shows. It generated so much buzz that American actress Mayim Bialik made a memorable appearance in which she spoke Yiddish.
Batalion and Elman originally intended the series as a means of exploring through comedy serious issues within the Jewish community, but they also recognized its potential for contributing to intercultural understanding.
The very first episode takes place at La Banquise, reputedly the best place in Montreal for poutine, where the pair are served by a Québécoise waitress played by well-known actress Léane Labrèche-Dor. Unsurprisingly, she does not speak the mama loshen and eyes these customers curiously.
Labrèche-Dor translated the first few episodes from English to French, and Alain Omer Duranceau, YidLife Crisis picture and online editor, has finished the project.
That was possible with support from the Brian Bronfman Family Foundation and Bronfman’s Peace and Social Harmony Network, which sees the potential of YidLife Crisis to demystify Jews and promote informal dialogue. The project also received funding from ROI Grassroots Events, an international initiative that encourages young Jewish people to come up with innovative ways of fostering inclusion and social justice.
Intentions were good, but Elman points out the translation had to be more than literal. “Yiddish is a colourful language with its own words and expressions that are hard to capture. Alain found creative ways of adapting the series for Quebecers who, after all, have their own joual that reflects their unique culture.”
“It was a lot of work to make sure the humour comes across. We tested the version on various people to see how it went over.”
The duo hopes the French version will find viewers as well among French-speaking Jews, whether Montreal’s Sephardim or the worldwide Jewish francophonie.
At root, the YidLife Crisis franchise is an affectionate homage to the language of its creators’ grandparents. “This is one of the top 1,000 things to happen to the Yiddish language in the last 1,000 years,” Batalion said—tongue in cheek, of course.