Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bienvenue chez les ch'tis

2008, France, directed Dany Boon

France's most successful domestically-produced release (at least since the advent of reliable records in the mid-1950s), Bienvenue chez les ch'tis is a very enjoyable comedy liable to prove a bit of a head-scratcher to much of the overseas audience - not so much because it's not entertaining but rather because it's hard to understand exactly what enabled it to wash away all before it (save for the unsinkable Titanic, the country's "all-time" number one film).

The film's plot is pretty simple: a postal employee is transferred, for complex reasons, from his home region in the south of France to the dreaded Nord - not just the northern half of the country, but the area nestled right up near the Belgian border, painted in such grim tones in everything from Zola's Germinal to Bruno Dumont first two films, La Vie de Jésus and L'Humanité. Indeed, I couldn't help thinking that Boon's film was conceived as a conscious antidote to the latter pair of films, both of which I found relentlessly grim; like Dumont, Boon is a native of the area, with more of a rehabilitative cast of mind.

The film is resolutely of the provinces: about the only thing more dreadful than being sent to the Nord is the idea of a transfer to Paris, and our fish-out-of-water first proves he's settling in when he gets a laugh at the expense of a Parisian transplant to the area. That, indeed, may be one reason for the movie's appeal: in many ways it looks back to a more gentle France, of small-town welcomes, where even La Poste is seen more as an extension of family than as a business. The fault lines of present-day France, at least as they are expressed in newspaper headlines, are completely absent (though the lead performers, Boon himself and Kad Merad, are of mixed ethnic heritage; both have Algerian fathers and French mothers).

The film is very nicely shot by Pierre Aïm, with fluid widescreen compositions; although the plotline has a sitcom predictability, many sequences were clearly conceived with the big screen, or at least a generous widescreen, in mind (as we see in the first shot above), and Aïm does an especially nice job of contrasting the southern light with its northern counterpart. The two leads are infectiously enjoyable, too, with their early scenes together especially amusing - it's not hard to imagine having an awfully good time in a receptive movie theatre - even if the end is altogether too rushed after the exposition gets away from Boon-as-director.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States