Herald rating: * * * *
Verdict: Genial and heartwarming if broad Gallic comedy.
The most successful French film ever at the French box office - and soon expected to edge out Titanic as the biggest hit of all time there - may not travel as well as it deserves to, since so much of its humour is language-based (the subtitlers, constantly having to search for equivalents to untranslatable jokes, deserve a starring credit). But it's a solid, heartwarming outing for Boon, a noted French comic who wrote, directed and provides the heart of an excellent ensemble.
Merad plays Philippe Abrams, the postmaster in a charming town in Provence, whose discontented wife, Julie (Felix) wants him to get a transfer to the Riviera. Anxious to please her, he tries to rort the selection process but blows it and gets banished to the country's northernmost region, the bleak, chill and windswept Nord-Pas de Calais: it's like being posted to Invercargill.
He expects it to be hell - and, for complicated reasons, finds himself telling his wife, who stays behind, that it is much worse than either of them had imagined.
It may be predictable that the locals - called Ch'tis after an oddity of their dialect - win him over with their wide-eyed ingenuousness, but nobody, least of all Philippe, expects Julie to head up north to join him.
Boon hails from this part of the country, and the film is in many ways a valentine to the locals' good-heartedness and a gentle rebuke to urban snobbery about the provinces.
It's full of marvellous set pieces - a well-lubricated postal delivery round is a crackup - and by film's end it's not hard to understand the local saying that a visitor to les Ch'tis cries both when he arrives and when he leaves.
The fact that Boon has reportedly signed a deal for an American remake is reason enough to race off to this: some of the jokes may go over non-Francophone heads, but it's likely to lose a hell of a lot more in translation.
Cast: Kad Merad, Zoe Felix, Dany Boon, Annabelle Deconninck
Director: Dany Boon
Running time: 106 mins
Rating: M (contains offensive language) In French and French dialect with English subtitles
Screening: Bridgeway, Lido, Rialto