Regional comedy set to break French film record

Sun Apr 6, 2008 7:06am EDT
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By James Mackenzie

PARIS (Reuters) - A feel-good comedy about regional prejudices and the inhabitants of the rainswept north of France is poised to become the most successful French film ever, attracting more than 17 million viewers in less than six weeks.

"Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis" (its title is based on a dialect word for northerners) looks certain this weekend to break a 41-year record held by the 1966 comedy "La Grande Vadrouille," according to the film's producers Pathe.

The U.S. melodrama "Titanic" still holds the absolute record in France, with more than 20 million viewers, but "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis" has become a phenomenon for the local industry, which has often struggled to produce home-grown hits.

"It's astonishing. It's amazing. I can't believe that we are the number one film of all times," the film's director and star Danny Boon told TF1 television, anticipating the French record.

The film pokes fun at stereotypes about the damp and chilly north, a region blighted by high unemployment and industrial decline whose inhabitants are often stigmatized in the rest of France as a backward race of uncouth beer drinkers.

Made for a reported 11 million euros ($17.28 million) by Boon, a native of the region, it centers on the trials of a post office manager transferred from an idyllic southern town to exile in the distant region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

He faces bad weather, incomprehensible local accents and an unfamiliar diet of fried chips, beer and a pungent local cheese normally enjoyed dunked in coffee ("It mellows it," he is assured).

Inevitably, however, he learns to appreciate the loveable cast of eccentrics he encounters.   Continued...