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MONTREAL — A fairy-tale romance whose title acknowledges both a saturation in and longing to be free of Jewish cultural baggage, Mikael Buch’s Let My People Go!cross-breeds cultures that are rarely paired onscreen. International box-office prospects are fair in urban arthouses, where the presence of Almodóvar collaborator Carmen Mauramay tip moviegoers off to the pop-inflected, comic semi-scandals in store.
Employing an archly retro visual scheme that recalls the self-conscious cinematic fetishes of some New Queer Cinema, the film opens on a gay fantasia of small town domesticity in Finland. Living with his adorable blond lover Teemu (Jarkko Niemi) in a lakeside cabin, French immigrant Ruben (Nicolas Maury) works as the friendly mailman in a neighborhood whose colorful houses look like Scandinavian Skittles.
After a misunderstanding involving a parcel full of Euros, though, Teemu casts his lover out of Eden, sending Ruben back to Paris where a family dry-cleaning business, melodramatic subplots and the descendants of Abraham await. Maura plays the matriarch, welcoming Ruben back to the fold while subtly urging him finally to get his act together.
Ruben is comically ill-at-ease here, but, with his girlish voice, thin skin and catastrophic motor skills (he nearly kills a young nephew on the playground), where wouldn’t he be? As Ruben flounders, Buch milks laughs from the friction between his parents’ devout Judaism and the waywardness of their children. From a gay bar’s “Coming Out Of Egypt” party to an imagined TV ad for “Jew-You Spray,” these gags enliven the movie’s more mundane conflicts, which include a sister on the verge of divorce and the 20-year affair Dad has been hiding.
Buch, who penned the script with Christophe Honoré, keeps cutting back to Finland, where poor Teemu is heartbroken. The time given to these scenes might not have been enough to keep the romance plot afloat without the winning performance of Niemi. The actor makes Teemu so much more sympathetic than Ruben — more virtuous, more comfortable with himself and the world – so that in rooting for his continued presence on-screen, we’re forced to care if the two reunite.
Buch has some fun with that question, working both of the lovers into bed with other characters and, in a very funny if implausible moment, manages to force a gruff old police captain to play middleman between them. For one brief moment in this light, briskly paced rom-com, someone on-screen is more uncomfortable than Ruben.
Venue: Montreal World Film Festival, First Films World Competition
Production Company: Les Films Pelléas
Cast: Nicolas Maury, Carmen Maura, Jarkko Niemi, Jean-François Stévenin, Amira Casar, Clément Sibony, Jean-Luc Bideau
Director: Mikael Buch
Screenwriter: Mikael Buch, Christophe Honoré
Producers: Philippe Martin, Géraldine Michelot
Director of photography: Céline Bozon
Production designer: Gwendal Bescond
Music: Éric Neveux
Costume designer: Anaïs Romand
Editor: Simon Jacquet
No rating, 87 minutes
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