Harvey Weinstein's "Intouchables" + Will Smith's "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis" - Remakes Of French Narratives; Familiar Themes

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by Tambay A. Obenson
November 17, 2011 11:36 AM
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Worth sharing... from the UK Guardian today:

The spectacular success at the French box office of Intouchables, having attracted 2.5 million people in just 10 days, is the latest episode in a phenomenon that started just a few months after Nicolas Sarkozy came to power in May 2007. We are not talking masterpiece or dazzling mise-en-scene – this is not the point. Intouchables tells the story of a quadriplegic aristocrat who hires a black ex-convict from the banlieues as his new minder. You will have guessed: it is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two men from opposite milieu. François Cluzet and Omar Sy may give tremendous performances, but the public hasn't flocked en masse for the film's artistic prowess. What they run to go and see is a story of class transcendence and national unity.

Intouchables is the latest in a series of very successful films which, in the last four years, have all shared this common theme. The first was Welcome to the Sticks, in which people from the south of France reconcile with people from the north by overcoming mutual prejudices. The characters enjoy simple pleasures and being happy. The film – certainly not a masterpiece – became the most popular French film ever with more than 20m tickets sold. In that sense, it was what I called at the time the "first anti-Sarkozy film": the movie offered a welcome riposte against Sarkozy's culture of bling.

A number of random thoughts and questions...

First, I obviously shared this because, first, I've been covering Intouchables for several months now; and of note, Harvey Weinstein bought USA remake rights to it, meaning we just might see an American remake sooner or later. Whether he'll stick with the original premise is another story. I like to point out these things partly because, if/when a stateside remake it is released, most probably wouldn't know it's a remake, nor would they have heard of the original. 

Secondly, what may also not be widely known at this point is that, in 2008, Warner Bros. purchased the rights to remake the other film mentioned in the Guardian piece, Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, or, in English, Welcome to the Sticks, with Will Smith to produce, and of course, star in.

The original French film follows a postal employee from the sunny south of France who gets an unwanted transfer to the rain-soaked north, known as "the sticks," where he eventually is won over by "the locals' warm-hearted ways and impenetrable dialect."

The film opened in France, in February 2008, and, as the Guardian notes, went on to break box-office records in the country, grossing more than $180 million in France alone, and, at the time, was said to be on its way to overtaking Titanic to become the highest-grossing movie ever released in the country!

The other item worth noting are the reasons given for why these films (Intouchables and Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis) have been immensely successfull; not because they're great works of cinema (according to the Guardian writer anyway, and which is actually kind of unfortunate), but rather because they are "socially aware films filling the void left by Nicolas Sarkozy's divisive politics."

I can't claim to be fully up-to-speed on France's (or specifically Sarkozy's "divisive politics") so I can't adequately respond to that statement; but it reads like a far too simplistic extrapolation, or link between cause and effect. Where are my French friends? Help me out here!!

Aside from that, in reading the comments responding to the Guardian piece, a writer listed stateside equivalents of films like Intouchables and Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis. Essentially "feel good" *safe* movies that appeal to white liberal sensibilities primarily, and do immense box office. At the top of his list was The Help

Oddly enough, my immediate reaction to Intouchables when I first read about it, and eventually saw the trailer, was how familiar it felt to movies like The Help, and The Blindside. So, I suppose I can understand the attraction to Intouchables by Weinstein for example. Not sure what to expect in Will's remake of Welcome To The Sticks though.

By the way, co-star of Intouchables, Omar Cy, is being hailed by some in France as a blossoming black cinema icon, as he's on track to win the French equivalent of the Oscar for Best Actor next February.

The full Guardian piece can be found HERE.

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3 Comments

  • delphine | November 20, 2011 4:23 PMReply

    Alexandre Dumas

  • Clnmike | November 19, 2011 4:55 PMReply

    Whats the French word for Magical Negro?

  • delphine | November 17, 2011 7:16 PMReply

    I beg your pardon for my english, I'm french .
    These films make us laugh, feel good and give us hope that fraternity is not dead during these gloomy times.

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