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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » November 5, 2008
The world of movies
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Welcome to the Land of Shtis
November 5, 2008 By Witold ¯ygulski   
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This latest comedy from popular actor-turned-director Dany Boon (My Best Friend) grossed 25.5 million euros at the French box office in its opening week to set an all-time record for a French film.

Philippe Abrams (Kad Merad-Chorists) has spent the last 10 years managing the post office in Salon-de-Provence in southern France and is now looking forward to being transferred to the Riviera. His wife Julie (Zoe Félix-The Dope), who runs a store selling spectacles, suffers from depression and frets incessantly about her husband and son Raphael. Julie hopes that this much anticipated transfer will reverse the family fortunes. But the picturesque seaside resort position goes to a disabled applicant. Philippe reapplies only this time, out of desperation, fakes being confined to a wheelchair. He is quickly found out and, as punishment, transferred to the small town of Bergues in the country's northernmost Nord-Pas de Calais region for a two-year stint. Anyone in France can tell you that this is as bad as it gets. The mere prospect throws the Abrams family into disarray. Julie decides to stay behind in Salon-de-Provence with their son leaving Philippe to head north to a land said to be freezing, even in summer, to a land where the food is foul and the people drink heavily and speak an impenetrable Picard dialect known as Ch'ti or Ch'timi. Even a traffic cop sighs with compassion and lets Philippe off with a warning on hearing that le miserable is headed for the north.

The linguistic preconception turns out to be the only one with any truth in it and even this is only a temporary setback. Philippe is completely and pleasantly surprised to find his new subordinates are kind, friendly and polite, and simply shrug off the negative stereotypes about them. After a couple of initial misunderstandings, Philippe settles into a very happy new life.

The only dark cloud is Julie whose sole reason for living is to console her tormented husband. Philippe dutifully plays the role expected of him when coming home on weekends and so everyone is happy. That is until Julie decides to come to Bergues to comfort Philippe in person. Philippe is rescued from what would otherwise be a tricky situation by the resourcefulness of his new friends.

More than anything else, Welcome to the Land of Shtis parodies the prejudices underlying human behavior, even in rich and civilized societies. It is also a warm and down-to-earth story of friendship, family and love, where people have nothing to fear from frankness in their day-to-day dealings with those closest to them. Philippe's life and those of his newfound friends forever change for the better once he is banished to the north. Don't be surprised to find yourself laughing out loud several times before the movie reaches its happy ending.
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