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A priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into a French comedy. What happens?
Pretty much what you would expect in the simpatico if extremely broad-minded Coexist (CoeXister), which follows the travails of an unlikely pop music sensation whose members represent a harmonious grouping of France’s three principal religions.
Written and directed by comic Fabrice Eboue, whose previous features tackled Gallic slavery (Case depart) and African dictators (The Crocodile of Botswanga), this high-concept farce was inspired by an actual trio of singing clergymen (known as Les Pretres — The Priests) that rocked France in 2010 with their album Spiritus Dei.
Eboue applies a rather clever contemporary twist to that story by turning his group into a plea for religious tolerance at a time when the nation seems to be divided along theological lines — especially in the wake of terrorist attacks on Jewish and Christian targets, as well as anti-Islam racism fueled by extreme right parties like the Front National. But such worthy intentions aren’t enough to overcome a half-baked scenario and a bunch of jokes that never seem to have been developed beyond the nesting stage.
Eboue plays Nicolas, a down-and-out impresario looking for the next big thing after his boss (Mathilde Seigner) tells him it’s either her way or the highway. With the aid of his trusty if sex-obsessed assistant, Sabrina (Audrey Lamy), Nicolas concocts the idea of a three-pronged pop-rock band composed of the rabbi Samuel (Jonathan Cohen) the priest Benoit (Guillaume de Tonquedec) and a womanizing alcoholic named Moncef who masquerades as an imam (Ramzy Bedia).
The group, whom Nicolas decides to call “CoeXister” in the hopes of unifying a divisive France, goes through the usual ups and downs, with each singer pretty much coming across as a stereotype of his faith: Samuel is a Dead Sea-water inhaling, Holocaust obsessed neurotic; Benoit is filled with unholy desires that drive him over the edge; and the sacrilegious Moncef only wants to rip off his skullcap, guzzle a bottle of wine and sleep with a bunch of hookers — all of which he manages to do.
This is far from sophisticated material, although there are a few decent one-liners that touch upon everything from Israel to Isis to pedophilia, especially when the three amigos rip off the gloves and go for the jugular. Eventually, all roads lead to a big show at Paris’ famed Olympia concert hall, and as one expects the group barely makes it there in one piece, with each member’s original sin nearly keeping him off the stage.
Not that you’re necessarily begging for them to sing: CoeXister’s incredibly cheesy spiritual ballads are liable to turn many a viewer into a bona fide atheist, even if such feel-good schmaltz seems to have its place in French popular culture. The performances are otherwise lively, if often as exaggerated as the characters, with Lamy rather shamelessly playing a nymphomaniac and Cohen doing his best to make Samuel, who unwillingly becomes a cokehead, a sort of Keith Richards with a tallith and yarmulke.
The film’s best scene is also its simplest: During an interview with a Jewish radio station, Moncef recounts his favorite moments from The Mad Adventures of ‘Rabbi’ Jacob — a classic French farce from 1973 that poked fun at anti-Semitism in outlandish ways. The way Bedia’s character cracks up when remembering that movie makes us long for the kind of laughs Coexist never manages to achieve, even if Eboue deserves some credit for trying to turn everyday calamity into comedy.
Production companies: EuropaCorp, Chez Felix, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Fabrice Eboue, Audrey Lamy, Ramzy Bedia, Jonathan Cohen, Guillaume de Tonquedec, Mathilde Seigner, Amelle Chahbi
Director, screenwriter: Fabrice Eboue
Producer: Edouard de Vesinne
Director of photography: Philippe Guilbert
Production designer: Pierre Queffelean
Costume designers: Mimi Lempicka
Editor: Alice Plantin
Composer: Guillaume Roussel
Artistic advisor: John Waxxx
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