Monday, March 15, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Monday, 15th March, 2010: Malcolm gets Frenched

It's Monday, so it's take-in-the-trash day, and bulk mailings pile through the letter-box.

This week's include The Traveller in France
, the French tourist office's semi-annual puff. Free, and worth every centime. Loads of pretty piccies, loaded with happy memories (Albi and its Toulouse-Lautrec museum; Fontevraud, an ad for Serre-Chevalier) and come-ons for places yet to be enjoyed. There are far worse ways to spent an odd hour.

The "something new", please, Malcolm ...

Does anyone outside l'Hexagone get French comedy films? The ones that export (Jacques Tati, most obviously) do so because they transcend language. Then there are the Jacques Demy '60s musicals: Les parapluies de Cherbourg and (a personal favourite) Les desmoiselles de Rochefort:

Ah, the Dorléac/Deneuve sisters: can an old man cope with such excess!

Malcolm, the point ... now!

Well, it's this, from Roger St. Pierre's piece, That's Funny, in The Traveller in
In humour, a common tongue does not always help. Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis was a runaway 2008 box office smash in France -- claiming to be the fastest grossing movie of all time, in any language -- yet its humour was lost on most French-speaking Belgian and Swiss moviegoers, let alone French Canadians and the Francophone Cajuns of Louisiana ...

In France they laugh about the Belgians, and the perceived lazy peo
ple of the south, about allegedly tight-fisted Normans and Auvergnats and, especially, about the inhabitants of Northern France -- the Ch'tis -- whose accent they find almost unintelligible ...

The film opened in 793 French cinemas, sensationally grossing some $
31.67 million in its first week. Seen in its first 20 weeks of screening by more than 21 million people -- close on a third of the population -- it comfortably broke the record for a French language movie ...

Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis however then went on to surpass Titanic as the most successful film ever in France.

We are then invited to visit Bergues (within an easy 45 minutes' drive of the Channel ports -- if Malcolm remembers correctly, that's all of six miles from Dunkirk), where the film was made. The town is one of those places, like so much of north-eastern France, knocked about a bit in 1940-1944.

Ummm ...

Until reading that, Malcolm had somehow missed the story in The Guardian, and had no awareness of
Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis:
Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, set in a small town near Dunkirk, has proved such a hit in its opening days that Hollywood has bought the rights to make its own version set in a US backwater. Despite viewers from Marseille and even Normandy admitting they can't follow parts of the Ch'timi dialogue - a mixture of the Picard dialect of early French with the odd bit of Flemish - ticket sales are predicted to reach 10m, rivalling the mega-budget Asterix at the Olympic Games. Extra prints will be distributed to new screens after Paris cinemas were full this weekend.

The film tells the story of Philippe Abrams, a post office manager from Provence in southern France who is relocated to Bergues, a small town in the north - a prospect that fills him with dread and panic. But the town's local postman, his overbearing mother and northern friends ultimately win him over, despite ordeals like the local ritual of dipping stinking cheese on toast into coffee.
He was even unaware that les Ch'tis existed. However, it might explain why Malcolm's French, learned so painfully at school, didn't work out in the Sticks.

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