Foreign Film February: Welcome to the Sticks (2008)

welcome to the sticks

I’ve been a bit slack in my foreign language movie-watching over the last week, but I wanted to end the month with something fun. Welcome to the Sticks was written, directed and stars Danny Boon, but he’s not the lead.

That role goes to Kad Merad who plays a postal worker who is desperate to get transferred somewhere on the southern coast of France. Instead, he is transferred to a small town in the far north of the country.

The north of France is to the French like the deep south is to many Americans. He fears that it will be incredibly cold, that the people will speak with terrible accents and everyone will be rude and backward and rather stupid.

It turns out that the climate is pleasant and the people are quite nice. The trouble is he left his wife and young son back in the south. When he visits them on the weekend she is so ready for him to be miserable up there he doesn’t know how to tell her he likes it. This causes a lot of sitcom or romantic comedy-style shenanigans.

There is also some business over Danny Boon’s characters’ love life and a lot of other very silly stuff. It is very breezy and very goofy and it makes me laugh. A lot. I’ve seen it before, we own it on DVD actually. I’ll no doubt see it again.

It probably won’t work for everyone and there is a lot that gets lost in translation. A lot of the gags have to do with the difference in language. In the north, they speak a dialect of French and there are a lot of jokes about the Southerner not understanding anyone or misunderstanding certain words.

I speak a little French but not enough to watch a French film without subtitles. Jokes about how two completely different words sound a lot alike are difficult to translate so I expect a lot of the humor here doesn’t work that well for non-French speakers. I was helped out by the fact that my wife is a French speaker and she helped get the jokes across. Also, her laugh is infectious.

But there are also loads of other jokes that don’t need translating. I’m surprised an American studio hasn’t adapted it for the USA. It would work well with someone from the coast of some New England state moving to Alabama.

Foreign Film February: Micmacs (2009)


While working at a video store, Bazil (Danny Boon) is hit in the head by a stray bullet. The surgeons decide to leave it inside his skull for removing it might cause brain damage. Leaving it in may eventually cause it to lodge deeper into his brain, killing him, but it is worth the risk. As a boy, Bazil’s father was killed by a land mine.

Once released from the hospital, Danny finds that the video store has replaced him. Homeless, he wanders the streets of Paris until, one day, he is greeted by Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle) who takes him to his clubhouse located in the bowels of a junkyard. There he introduces him to a group of misfits who scavenge the city for their livelihoods.

One day Bazil realizes that the company that made the bullet that is still lodged in his head sits across the street from the company that made the land mines that killed his father. A plan is hatched to have his revenge on the owners of both companies.

Micmacs was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and it has all of his hallmarks as a filmmaker – it blends fantastic elements into an otherwise normal story, its characters are full of odd-ball quirks, it is adventurous, funny, and romantic. His visual style is all over it as well.

Like a lot of non-French speakers, I suppose, I first came to Jeanuet’s films through Amelie, his beautiful and charming 2001 film starring Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz. I immediately fell in love. I then went back and watched his earlier, darker films Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. Loved them and became a big fan. But because he is French and the films he’s made since Amelie have not been as popular his films have become increasingly difficult to find and watch over here. They’ve also not been as good.

Micmacs is a good example of what I mean. It has most of the ingredients that usually make for a good Jeanuet film. It is filled with quirky characters and humorous incidents, there is a little action and a little romance, but it never quite gels. The biggest problem comes from how the characters feel like their quirks and not actual people. They are even named after their quirks – Elastic Girl, Calculator, Buster, and so on. They are all interesting and performed well but we don’t get to know them. Jeanuet films are always filled with these types of characters and quirks and after a while, that cuteness wears a little thing.

There is a lot to like about the film. Bazil’s attempts to get revenge are ridiculous in their complexity and wonderfully fun in the way the film pulls them off. The characters might not be fully realized but they are enjoyable to watch. Etc.

If you’ve never seen a Jeunet film then I’d start with Amelie (or Delicatessen if you are not romantic at heart). Then I’d move to the films surrounding Amelie and once those are exhausted, and if you decide you are a fan, I’d move to Micmacs and his later works.