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Louis 19, le roi des ondes

(King of the Airwaves)

Year: 1994
Language: French
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 93 min
Director: Michel Poulette
Producer: Richard Sadler, Jacques Dorfmann
Writer: Emile Gaudreault, Sylvie Bouchard, Michel Michaud
Cinematographer: Daniel Jobin
Editor: Denis Papillon
Sound: Michel Descombes, Vincent Arnardi, Gilles Fargout
Music: Jean-Marie Benoît
Cast: Dominique Michel, Patricia Tulasne, Gilbert Lachance, Jean L’Italien, Martin Drainville, Agathe de la Fontaine
Production Company: Les Films Stock International, Eiffel Productions

Louis Jobin (Martin Drainville) is a young, nerdy and downbeat salesman who spends his days working in a Montreal electronics store and his nights feeding a television addiction that sees him endlessly surfing channels. His passion for the tube spurs him to enter a contest launched by local Channel 19 to find a viewer whose life will be broadcast live, twenty-four hours a day, for three months.

Louis wins the contest – his very ordinariness makes him the perfect choice to appeal to all sectors of the viewing public – and before long he is a celebrity. He enjoys his new high profile but is otherwise unaffected. However, his community, and particularly his mother, react to the increased attention in hilarious ways. The network executives decide to add a love interest and arrange for Louis to meet an actress named Julie (Agathe de la Fontaine). They fall in love and the ratings soar. But Louis wants out of a life that has become an intrusive nightmare, so he and Julie devise a scheme to make love on-air and force the executives to pull the plug.

A very smart satire on television and its craven attempts to grab ratings at any cost, Louis 19, le roi des ondes features an intensely likeable performance from Drainville and delightful support from veteran actress Dominique Michel as the domineering mother hell-bent on making the most of her son’s fifteen minutes of fame. The high-concept, intelligent and absurdist script is based on an idea by Emile Gaudreault and Sylvie Bouchard (who co-wrote the screenplay with Michel Michaud) of the popular Quebec comedy troupe Groupe Sanguin.

A box-office smash in Quebec (so much so that it registered on Variety’s list of top-selling North American films), Louis 19, le roi des ondes was warmly received by critics and festival audiences in English Canada but never had a commercial release outside Quebec. It anticipated the reality TV craze by a half-decade and was remade in Hollywood by director Ron Howard as EDtv in 1999. It received five Genie Award nominations, winning the Golden Reel Award (Richard Sadler, Jacques Dorfmann) for highest box-office receipts and the Claude Jutra Award (Michel Poulette) for Direction of a First Feature Film.