Sunday, January 5, 2014

Welcome to the Sticks

Bienvenue chez le Ch'tis; comedy, France, 2008; D: Dany Boon, S: Kad Merad, Dany Boon, Zoe Felix, Anne Marivin

Philippe Abrams, manager of a postal office in the French south, is constantly harassed by his wife Julie who wants to move to a lovely city at the Mediterranean coast. For trying to fake his application by pretending to be disabled, Philippe is punished by getting transferred to the French far north, to the cold Bergues. Philippe goes there all by himself and meets the locals who speak in the "ch'ti" dialect. Philippe needs time to adjust to their mentality, but soon finds to like the place. He even helps a postman, Antoine, to propose a girl, Annabelle. When Julie goes to visit him, Philippe instructs the locals to act primitive, because his marriage works the best when she has pity on him. Julie finds out the place is not that bad either, and gets to like the place, as well.

Sometimes the greatest box office hits in certain countries are not also the greatest films of that cinema, but rather just "lucky breaks" for authors who somehow managed to hit the nerve of the audience. Such is the case with Dany Boon's "Welcome to the Sticks", a politically correct, nice, but bland and standard comedy that is little more than a gentle jab at the cultural difference between France's north and south. Still, it managed to sell over 20 million tickets at the French box office, a new record in 2008. As with most comedy films or TV shows that rely exclusively or mostly only on play with words, "Sticks" is also thus entrenched only in the language it originated from, while abroad other countries hesitated to screen it, since it is almost impossible to adapt all those dialect differences that get "lost in translation". For instance, in one sequence, Philippe arrives at the northern city and goes to his apartment, without any furniture. He talks to the local Antoine, who speaks the 'ch'tis' dialect that pronounces the letter "S" as "Sh" or "Ch". Antoine and Philippe thus spend three minutes arguing over the words "Sien" (=His) that sounds here like "Chien" (=Dog). Unfortunately, since these kind of jokes only work in French, its punchlines are only restricted to people who know that language, but otherwise its appeal is lost. The film is only moderately funny, with an unnecessary subplot that starts very late, just 20 minutes before the end, revolving around Philippe trying to persuade his wife Julie that people in the north are really stereotypical "savages". The most was achieved in the subplot where the protagonist helps Antoine propose a girl he likes, in a brief, but romantic moment. "Sticks" is an easily watchable 'light' comedy, but the only truly hilarious bits work around Antoine's mother, who is precisely so funny because you cannot believe how such a dignified older lady would talk such "off" words.


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