Bienvenue chez les ch’tis [Welcome to the Sticks] (2008)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Bienvenue chez les ch’tis</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">Welcome to the Sticks</strong>] (2008)

(On DVD, December 2009) It’s probably best not to focus on the fact that Bienvenue chez les ch’tis is one of the highest-grossing French films of all times, otherwise it’s almost de rigueur to question what makes this film so special.  The answer is close to “not much”: As with so many fish-out-of-the-water comedies in which sophisticated characters are thrust in rustic locations for an extended period, you can almost see the clicks of the well-worn plot mechanics at work in this film as scene after scene does its job.  Of course, the much-derided place is full of heart-warming characters with real qualities and problems.  Of course, the lead character comes to love the place.  Of course, there are a few complications.  Perhaps the most amusing element of Bienvenue chez les ch’tis is the excessive setup in which “Le Nord” is depicted, via the usual stereotypes, as a horrible place; the flip side of that setup is the elaborate deception that the lead character ends up entertaining in order to placate his incredulous south-bound family.  Props also go to the willingness to show the epilogue of the tale, something that other films would have avoided.  Otherwise, it’s by-the-number comedy filmmaking.  Well done, amusing and mechanical.  Kad Merad and Dany Boon make up a decent comedic pair, playing off southern/northern stereotypes with energy.  This isn’t a strikingly original film, especially not when every regional cinema seems to have a variation of the same story (For French-Canada, check out La Grande Séduction).  But reasonably well-made films can be a joy to watch even when they follow familiar templates, and this is another one of them.  Millions of Francophones can be unadventurous, but in this case they’re not necessarily wrong.  (But they will want to turn on the subtitles.) The DVD contains an overly long blooper reel, and a slightly amusing featurette in which the film’s two leads try to go back incognito to the village where the film was shot.

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