It was by hearing a friend recount his experience as a Christmas tree salesman in New York that filmmaker Stéphane Moukarzel knew he had found a perfect playground in which to set his first feature film, which he wanted above all to be funny.

“I thought there was a lot of comic and unusual potential, but also atmospheric. I saw something there,” he explains.

Sapin$, produced by Ziad Touma, features Rémi (Étienne Galloy, seen in the series Les bracelets rouge and Haute demolition), 21 years old, in debt of nearly $15,000 following an accident. To repay what he owes, the young man hops on a bus, heading to the Big Apple, to go sell Christmas trees. There he will meet Laura (Diane Rouxel, seen in the films Terre des hommes and Marche ou crève), a reckless French ecologist who is rebuilding herself after militant exhaustion.

For the performers of the main roles, Étienne Galloy and Diane Rouxel, reading the script left no doubt: the comic potential of the tree stand was well exploited. “It made me die of laughter,” says the woman who plays Laura straight away. “Me too, completely cramped,” adds Étienne Galloy. And it was just so up my alley. »

It’s a little different for Diane Rouxel, who had mostly acted in dramas before, but who had long wanted to experiment with comedy: “There’s something freer about the comedic tone. I wanted to be a character who has nothing to hide, so this film does a lot of good. »

Even though it is primarily a situation comedy, many social themes run through Sapin$. At the heart of the story, the Bronx community that the two young people will tame. Rémi will make friends with shopkeepers and learn important lessons from the “patentants” of the street.

“At the end of his journey, Rémi has not necessarily accomplished his mission of collecting lots of money, but he has acquired much more: life experience, meetings, openness and tools to face the rest of his life”, underlines the director. The one who was born in Lebanon and grew up in Ivory Coast believes that reaching out to others is perhaps the only remedy to the rise of the extreme right and xenophobia.

“It’s very enriching to confront people who are different from us. There is a beautiful lesson in openness to the world in Sapin$,” adds Diane Rouxel. His playing partner agrees, specifying that the protagonists learn thanks to unusual encounters, but also thanks to each other. “Our two characters, on different levels, let go and learn to be less rigid by watching the other exist in adversity. »

If Stéphane Moukarzel decided to work with Germain Larochelle – whom he met at INIS – to write the screenplay, it was because he liked its “pop, but trash” side. “When I proposed it to him, he was excited and he really understood what I wanted to do. The mixture of our two pens created a very particular tone,” says the director.

A tone that really pleased Étienne Galloy. The latter appreciates the ambiguity of the cinematic genre and shines in catastrophic comedies.

The actor considers Sapin$ to be a tour de force: an auteur film that knows how to entertain, but which is also ultra-modern and depicts multiple realities and cultures. A proposition not so usual in Quebec cinema.

“It marked my life, the abundance of cultures and diversity,” says Stéphane Moukarzel. For me, it was essential to represent that in my film, especially considering that it takes place in New York, which like almost all big cities, is very diverse. » And this film is indeed the image of a metropolis: from its disparate influences emerges an inexplicably fluid chaos.