Running Time: 106mins
Rated: Rated M (coarse language)
Only "Titanic' has taken more money at the French box office than this comedy and it is poised to become the most successful French film ever released in France. This is a comedy that is directed at exposing French prejudices among communities that live in separate regions of France. Taking the part of a postal agency director, Philippe Abrams (played with great gusto by Kad Merad), is banished from the south of France to its northern regions after he is caught impersonating a disabled person while trying to seek a job transfer, which would take both himself and his wife Julie (Zoe Felix), who is depressed, to the sunny regions of France. His punishment takes him to a region of France renowned prejudicially for its coldness, impersonality and lack of warmth, all of which he does not find. His wife refuses to go, and he cannot bear to report back to her that he has found a welcoming community and that he loves being a part of it. To make things worse, Julie's love for Philippe is fuelled back home by her sympathy for his adversity. Consequently, he sends terrible stories of harsh treatment back to his wife who finally decides to visit him in his new job. Philippe needs the community to behave terribly to support his stories, and it does so. The scenes where his wife is exposed to all the prejudices he has told her are very funny, creating almost the worst weekend Julie has spent in her entire life. Naturally, things become unstuck and Philippe confesses the truth to his wife who eventually decides to join him in his new job and she becomes, like him, part of a community which cares for them both.
In his adaption to his new surrounds, there are many scenes of delicate and infectious warmth as Philippe comes to a realisation that his stereotypes have been profoundly wrong. The movie reaches high comedy when the town relocates to an old mining village in order to become the worst possible community for Julie, as it lives out French regional stereotypes in every conceivable way. It is here that the comic genius of Kad Merad shines through together with the flair of Dany Boon, who plays the role of Antoine a Carillion performer and an alcoholic postman, and who directs the movie. The whole cast uses comic timing, language bizarreness, and engaging eccentricity to carry off the pretence. The finale is touching as Philippe confirms Antoine's theory on the Chinese proverb that a stranger to the North brays (cries) twice - once when arriving and once when departing.
It is a little bit of a mute point whether the film is optimally enjoyable to someone who hasn't experienced at first hand the regional prejudices confronted by the movie, or isn't very familiar with them. The film could be said to trade on clichés, but it does so in a feel-good, positive way. One can understand stereotypes, wherever they occur, even if one doesn't live among them, and the weekend where everything goes wrong is funny in ways that only French farce can deliver. This is a well-directed movie, very funny in parts, and perhaps most appealing to those who genuinely understand the diverse differences between the southern and northern regions of France. Everyone in the film (as the final credits reveal) obviously had great fun in making it. The film clearly won't rival "Titanic' commercially outside of France, but it offers a highly enjoyable experience. It brings touches of French lightness, warmth and comic flair that leave you feeling much the better for having seen it.
Pathe Distribution Out September 4
Peter W. Sheehan. Associate, of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.