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:: Welcome To The Sticks

French stand-up comedian turned actor/director Dany Boon’s Welcome to the Sticks has become the highest grossing film of all time at the French box office, and not without good cause. The film stars Karl Merad as Philippe Abrams, a post office manager in the south of France who has worked tirelessly over the last eleven years in order to be granted a transfer to a Mediterranean locale in order to please his depressed wife Julie (Zoe Felix). In a desperate move Philippe pretends he is handicapped, since the transfer requests of the disabled are usually granted. But when he is caught in the act, Philippe is disciplined by being transferred to the far north city of Bergues, which has a reputation of being a cold and miserable wasteland populated by drunkards. Treating his transfer as a death sentence, Philippe is initially reluctant to fit in yet grows to love his new surroundings and its people, among them Antoine (Dany Boon) the town postman, and Antoine’s unattainable love Annabelle (Anne Marivin).

In simple terms Welcome to the Sticks is a feel good movie and a rather good one at that. Its main themes revolve around the prejudices faced by small towns in misunderstood regions of the world, their eccentricities, and the stereotypes placed on them by big city folk. Bergues could easily be replaced by cities in Texas or Tasmania. A good majority of the films comedy stems from the language barrier between Philippe and the townsfolk, who speak a rather unique French dialect known as ch’ti (or chiti), where the letter “s” is pronounced as “sh”, and “sh” is pronounced as “shka’, and so on. This is both a blessing and a curse, since while certain lines of dialogue do give way to hilarity a non-French speaking audience would not be able to fully appreciate the differences between both dialects. The two romance sub-plots work very well, and a sequence involving a mail run turned drinking marathon is a highlight.

At its core, Welcome to the Sticks is a message of love from Boon – who himself was raised in the North of France where he spoke the ch’ti dialect heard in the film – to the people of Nord-Pas de Calais. And while some French cinema purists may disapprove such sentimental conventions in a French film, Boon’s tribute to his ch’ti people is indeed a wonderful and moving cinema experience.