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French soap opera ‘Ici tout commence’ finds global queer fandom

A new soapy lesbian couple is on the rise, this time coming out of France.


Kira Deshler

Pop Culture

Posted on Mar 14, 2024   Updated on Mar 14, 2024, 4:57 pm CDT

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Despite being looked down on by those with highbrow taste, the soap opera is the most universal form of television we have. They exist in every part of the world, each with their own flavor and the requisite amount of elaborate drama.

In recent years, a new kind of soap opera fandom has emerged. As lesbian and bisexual characters have become more prominent in soaps, queer fans have flocked to the scene. Latin American series like Em FamíliaLas Estrellas, and Amar a muerte featured lesbian couples that took the sapphic internet by storm all across the globe.

Now, a new soapy lesbian couple is on the rise, this time coming out of France. Ici tout commence takes place at a cutthroat culinary school, the perfect locale for both rivalry and romance. The romance in question develops between Bérénice (Bérénice Tannenberg), a talented chef who lacks confidence, and Carla (Aaricia Lemaire), a bossy loudmouth who hates being vulnerable. ‘Carlice,’ as fans have dubbed them, embodies several tropes beloved by romance fans, including friends to lovers, slow burn, and fake dating.

They also exemplify the core tenets of what we might call lesbian soap opera fandom. First and foremost is fan labor, which is what allows the couple to have an international following. French fans do the work of cuttingediting, and then translating Carlice scenes into English so non-French speaking viewers can watch them. These translations often include tidbits of backstory that those unfamiliar with the series might need to understand it better. Some fans even translate interviews with the actresses to give international viewers the full package.

Watching the show in stitched-together clips like this creates a unique viewing context. Scholar Frederik Dhaenens calls this editing process “queer cutting,” and suggests that it’s a subversive way of centering a queer relationship that may only make up a small percentage of the actual show. For Carlice fans, especially those who live outside of France, the broader context of the series is irrelevant. In a way, these fans are creating an entirely new series out of parts of a whole. (Of course, the biggest drawback to watching the show like this is that waiting for new Carlice scenes within the larger ensemble can be frustrating.)

The international dimension of this fandom is evident. On X, fans post about the couple in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean. On fanfiction sites like Archive of Our Own, writers upload works in both French and English, with some fics translated from one language to the other. The fandom has become big enough that even the lead actresses are aware of its global reach.

The kind of fan labor inherent to this fandom does a lot to bring people together. There is a sense of gratitude towards the fans doing the work of editing and translation, which creates connections across language and culture. There’s also the thrill of having the cultural literacy to be aware of the couple and the technological know-how to access these cherished scenes.

Why it matters

Queer representation on screen remains a shaky prospect, and fandoms like these indicate there is still a global desire for more. The spark of recognition—even when expressed in a foreign language and tangled in a web of complicated plots—inspires fans to transgress digital borders and dive into the labyrinthine soap opera sea.

If nothing else, this is a reminder for soap opera writers everywhere: if you add lesbians, the fans will come

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*First Published: Mar 14, 2024, 6:00 am CDT