Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis

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City of Lights, City of Angels

Nothing really explains why "Welcome to the Sticks" (Bienvenue chez les ch'tis) has become the biggest boxoffice smash in French history.

Perhaps the French are just in the mood to laugh at themselves. The film, which played at Los Angeles' City of Lights, City of Angels film festival, reveals itself to be a lighthearted, feel-good comedy that plays it both ways: It makes fun of regional prejudices yet still gets comic mileage out of rube characters and a nearly impenetrable dialect.

Those linguistic gags might limit playdates outside France. However, the English subtitles shown here did a solid job of letting non-French speakers in on the joke.

Co-written and directed by popular comic Dany Boon, the film centers on a postal manager (Kad Merad) banished from sunny Provence to a bleak town "up north." All southerners consider that region uninhabitable by any civilized person because of bad weather and a backward culture. Even a traffic cop refuses to issue a citation in sympathy for the poor man.

The locals do indeed speak an incomprehensible dialect (albeit one the actors allow to come and go). But the manager soon overcomes his initial antipathy thanks to a lovelorn mailman (Boon) and a collection of "colorful" rustics who befriend him. Because of marital tensions, though, he continues to tell his wife (Zoe Felix) back home that he is miserable. Then she journeys north to see for herself.

Comic action and sight gags mix nicely with the linguistic humor. The film's points about the utter stupidity of cliches concerning other people are well made without being didactic. But none of that solves the mystery of a boxoffice of $200 million.

WELCOME TO THE STICKS (BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CH'TIS)
Pathe Renn Prods./Hirsch in association with Les Productions du Chicon and TF1 Films Prods.
Credits:
Director: Dany Boon
Screenwriters: Dany Boon, Alexandre Charlot
Producers: Claude Berri, Jerome Seydoux
Executive producer: Eric Hubert
Director of photography: Pierre Aim
Production designer: Alain Veyssier
Music: Pierre Rombi
Costume designer: Florence Sadaune
Editor: Luc Barnier
Cast:
Philippe: Kad Merad
Antoine: Dany Boon
Zoe: Julie: Zoe Felix
Raphael: Lorenzo Ausilia-Foret
Annabelle: Anne Marivin
Fabrice: Philippe Duquesne
Antoine's mother: Line Renaud
Running time -- 109 minutes
No MPAA rating
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