Welcome to the Sticks is a 2008 French comedy directed by Dany Boon which can truly serve as a litmus test for the French society. It is a film which celebrates diversity and inspires companionship – something that people desperately need in the highly globalized modern world.
Only Titanic beat this movie in sales, which is a high bar to reach. Welcome to the Sticks will leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside as it combines classic comedy with romance arc as well as the fish out of water story that shows how people of different backgrounds can set aside their differences and foster meaningful relationships.
The Plot Overview
Even though you are not supposed to reveal the ending, it is essential to give the reader some basic info regarding the plot. So, in general, the movie revolves around the story of a post office director Philippe Abrams played by Kad Merad, who is forced to move to the Northern town of Bergues as a disciplinary measure set by his boss.
Philippe is married to a wonderful woman Julie Abrams who suffers from depression and dreams about moving to Riviera. He wants so much to make his wife happy that he gets a fake disability certificate to have a better chance for this desirable relocation. However, his plan backfires and gets him in trouble. It is funny how his boss thinks that moving to the North is worse than a dismissal. Philippe, although very upset about this course of events, does not protest, determined to persevere through the difficulties.
In the North, however, Philippe encounters many warm-hearted and outgoing people who become his friends. Inadvertently he lies to his wife about hating it, as it seems to strengthen their relationship. As you might expect, it does not end well. For further details I suggest watching a movie yourself.
The Cultural Ramifications
The movie investigates the cultural differences between the North and the South of France. It plays upon popular stereotypes using humor to dispel them and prove the audience that despite the visible disparities, people from other regions want the same.
The French have always been very adamant about preserving their identity. Even now they do not like speaking English to foreigners and try hard not to fall victim to the all too common Americanization of language, traditions and culture. French has the hardest spelling, but people are determined to keep it intact despite its obvious difficulty.
Nowadays there’s been a lot of racism and xenophobic sentiment floating around the European continent. The fact that this movie had such a tremendous success proves that people are tired of these fear-driven battles and want to live in peace and unity after all.
The Language Peculiarities
Even though Welcome to the Sticks displays many divergences between the North and the South, like the food preferences, drinking habits and the overall lifestyle choices, the most staggering and hilarious contrast can be observed in the language domain.
The Northerners of Nord-Pas-De-Calais speak a very special Picard dialect. They say mi/ti instead of moi/toi and ch for s. It causes confusion and lots of misunderstandings in the beginning, but later it serves as a bridge between representatives of two cultures.
Philippe gradually learns to speak like Ch’tis (the people of that region), and it is both funny and endearing to watch. His original preconceptions about Northerners as brutish and unsophisticated Neanderthals prove to be wrong, as he finds himself getting more and more attached to them.
The Movie’s Influence
Welcome to the Sticks of Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis did not enjoy the same kind of popularity abroad as it did in native France. It was predictable given how specific and culturally biased most of the jokes were.
Nonetheless, many countries adopted the idea and tried to pull of something similar. The Italians made two remakes of this movie playing on the contrast between the North and the South of Italy. Even Americans considered the idea, although it did not come to fruition.
Because the language was the main comic element so far, it was hard for the foreign audience to appreciate this aspect of the movie if they did not speak French. The English translation presents Ch’ti language as gibberish which is funny to an extent, but naturally not as much as the French original to the French people.
The Crisis of Happiness
The movie shows a young accomplished professional moving to the boondocks and finding simple happiness. This idea is very resonant with the overall public sentiment, as many people now are tired of city life and want to move to the countryside. Downshifting is becoming increasingly coveted by today’s folks as they realize the price they have to pay for a good paycheck and social recognition often excludes happiness from their lives.
Philippe as well as Julie think that changing the setting will help them salvage their relationship and cope with depression. However, throughout the movie it is revealed that it is not where you live, but who surrounds you is what matters. Philippe forms strong ties with the Northern community which makes him far happier than he ever was in the warm Southern regions.
Thus, despite the cultural dissimilarities, Philippe finds friends and satisfaction with his daily routine. It just shows that human values and strive for happiness are universal, independent from the social norms and traditions.
Many critics did not understand this movie. It is low-budget and unassuming with a simple plot and no special effects. It is centered on the commonplace characters that are far from being heroes. They do not shock or inspire and, although relatable, have many flaws.
However, I would still recommend this movie as it shows how in the increasingly hectic and diverse world, people can foster relationships based on kindness and openness. It may not be the most original idea, but Dany Boon certainly captured the zeitgeist revealing how erroneous stereotypes can be and how important it is to listen to your heart and not just to the public opinion.