13 December 2011

Dany Boon's Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis/Welcome to the Sticks (2008)

A French comedy in which much of the humor is based on verbal misunderstandings is bound to lose something in translation, as is the case with this untranslatable title, which in French refers to (the language of or) the people from the north (mainly in the northern half of the Pas-de-Calais département), the Ch'tis (or Chtimis), essentially so called because they tend to pronounce words or syllables beginning with an 's' as 'ch' (or 'sh' to an English ear).
But there is also a great deal of humor of situation, and Dany Boon makes the most of this in a movie set largely in his home territory, which just happens to be a huge recordbreaker as far as French movies in France go.

Post office manager Philippe Abrams (Kad Mérad) works in Provence (some scenes being set in Salon-de-Provence), but his attempts to relocate to the Côte d'Azur by passing off as a handicapped person misfire and he is punished by being sent off to Bergues in the north, leaving behind his wife Julie (Zoe Félix) and their young son.

There are several references to other movies: before leaving, in a scene which recalls Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Philippe consults his wife's great-uncle, who in semi-darkness informs him that temperatures in the north can reach below 60; on his fearful arrival in Bergues, buildings take on the distorted nature of those in some German Expressionist movies (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari?); and the most obvious homage is to Jacques Tati's Jour de Fête, with its cycling postman, especially when he accepts drinks from the people he delivers mail to.

Cutting to the quick, Philippe's anticipations of the cold north disappear like morning frost as he is warmly accepted into Ch'ti society. There may initially be a few blips when he fears Antoine (Dany Boon) is a mad transvestite, or when he has to cope with the smell of the local maroilles cheese, or eating outside at 'Friterie "Momo"', but he soon adapts to life in the north to the extent that he even forgets it's the weekend, and the driving distance between Bergues and Provence shrinks by about 400 kilometers to make the round trip feasible, but hey, this is the movies, isn't it?

I thoroughly enjoyed thish one, although I guesh it ish not sho eashy if you have to conshentrate on shubtitlsh, ash it musht be sho frushtrating. Sherioushly, ish shuper!

One bitch on subtitling: 'connasse' = 'bitch'? Oh yeah? If you want to pass a certain certification maybe, but...

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