Saturday, July 27, 2013


Mr. and Mrs. Buce idled away a good-natured couple of hours the other night watching Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.  It's an amiable piece of fluff, of interest (at least to an outsider) primarily because apparently it is France's biggest-grossing movie ever.  As such, it tells you--by which I mean, "me"--some interesting stuff that you might not otherwise guess about French culture.

The plot is straightforward--enough so that you can't imagine why nobody ever thought of it before.  Harassed postal manager dreams and schemes to get a transfer south to the Mediterranean.  Through his own incompetence, he winds up instead getting sent to Berques (pop. 3,800), way up at the tippy top of France, just under the Belgian border.  The north, oh dear the north: he'll hate it, this will never work.   The ch'tis, the sticks, though whether this is supposed to be a vulgar Anglicism or Berques patois, I am not sure.  Anyway, welcome to the sticks.

You can pretty much construct the rest of the plot from there and you'll be right and no harm done.  Think Northern Exposure with smelly cheese and rubber faces: the French do seem to like rubber faces.  I suppose that part of the point is that it gives its French audience a reassuring sense of nationhood while introducing them to a chunk of the country they never even suspected existed.  Yes, it does seem that nobody in France ever set foot in Berques unless they were born there, except perhaps for one old guy about whom the less said the better.  In terms of general framework, then, it is a lot like France's previous all-time top seller, La Grande Vadrouille--also a road film with a lot of good-natured merrymaking.

What is perhaps most eye-opening for l'étranger ignorant is that both the co-stars (one also the auteur) are also étrangers--at least in the sense that they both have visibly foreign roots.  In particular, Algerian: the auteur, Dany Boon, is identified at Wiki as the son of an Algerian Kabyle--i.e., Berber--father.  It says here that Boon's mother is Picard-French, i.e., the ch'tis--and that he has built a lot of his career on Picard-ethnic humor (his co-star, Kad Merad, is identified as having been born in Algeria to an Algerian father and a French mother).

The whole package seems almost absurdly transportable.  Evidently there is already an Italian version: Benvenuti al Sud.    Wiki mentions plans for an American version, although I don't see any sign of it.  Wouldn't take much imagination to cook up another 180 or so more.   Especially worth watching, I suspect, would be the Korean.

1 comment:

The New York Crank said...

Oh Buce, it's so easy,you could write it in y our sleep.

"Welcome to Palookaville."

You know, the couple freezing their butts off in Detroit, Michigan request "California," hoping for sunny LA, or San Diego, or romantically hilly San Francisco and instead find themselves spending Saturday night at....

Well, you can take it from there.

The New York Crank