Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The "right kind" of foreigner

This past Sunday, I went to see "Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu?" with two friends.  If you haven't seen any trailers for it, the basic storyline is about a good Catholic (white) French family who very unhappily ends up with four "foreign" son-in-laws.  It's not something I would normally see, but both my friend's in-laws and my in-laws raved about it (and my in-laws rarely rave about anything besides the anti-gay marriage protests - maybe that should have been my clue??), so I decided "Why not?"

I'm no movie critic, and these are just my thoughts on the film, but I spent most of the movie feeling fairly uncomfortable with the audience's reaction.  The entire 90 minutes were basically just one racist joke after another, under the guise of "humor", and the audience's constant reactions to them really kind of rubbed me the wrong way.  I'm having a hard time putting it in words, but it was like they weren't laughing because the film was funny, but because they really thought the racist jokes were funny and like it was validating their opinions.  It just seemed so telling of the state of France today, with the anti-immigrant sentiments and so many people voting for extreme right candidates.  Like one of the worst things that could happen to a good français de souche family is having your children marry non-white spouses.

And speaking of the "foreign" son-in-laws - three of whom were actually all born in France in the film, so they were technically French I'd like to point out - they totally played up the stereotypes for their origins.  The Arabic guy with the hot temper and who fights with the Jewish guy, the Chinese guy who just smiles and sucks up to everyone.  It's like - why would you even agree to play that role?  Maybe the way the script was written and the way it actually ended up weren't what they expected?   Or maybe I'm just sensitive to it because the comments I get as a white, middle-class American strike me as so unfair and hypocritical - ie I am an "acceptable" type of foreigner and I "don't count" when people are making racists or derogatory comments about immigration in France.  I don't know.  It's been a couple of days since I've seen the film and it's still sort of niggling at me.  Maybe I'm just overreacting because the foreigner card is a hot button topic for me, and it's not really a big deal.  Has anyone else seen the film? 



Blogger The Paris Chronicles said...

I am so very pleased to read your take on this film. I found everything about this movie to be offensive--from the bus banner ads to the audience reaction. I very much agree with everything you've written here.

We saw the movie out in Normandy--in our very Francais de souche/Gallois village, where the audience also enjoyed seeing their visions of what they perceived as "The Immigrant" validated and made fun of. We wondered what it would be like to view this film in the 93? Would the audience laugh at the same parts? Would they laugh at all?

I have deep issues with the way France represents their post-colonial world. It is often put on display as some rare curiosity, a museum piece, something to be considered but at a distance. If you ever have a chance to visit the immigration museum at the Porte Doree, you will see how they represent this concept (and rewrite post-colonial history).

Now there are tours of la banlieue "lead by a Real Banlieuesard"!!!! where you can visit St Denis from the comfort of a tour bus, viewing the Natives but at a safe distance.

I got into this on my Facebook page with a friend (French) who is married to a North African woman and who was raving about how funny the film was. I was astounded that he and his wife found the subject matter so hilarious. He said I did not understand the "popular humour." I think he didn't understand how offensive this film really is, when deconstructed.

But then again, I hate Jerry Lewis, too.

May 6, 2014 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Bee Ean said...

Went to see this film, it was sold out on Sunday so we had to go again on Monday, seats were almost sold out as well.

Ok I don't have the same feelings as you when I watched this movie. I found it hilarious. I felt that I learnt somethings about how French view other races / the stereotypes. For example the Chinese are supposed to be punctual, I don't know where it comes from. They probably mixed up Chinese with the Japanese.

May 6, 2014 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Not being in France anymore, I was unaware of this film, and I doubt it will be released here in the States. That said, your post reminded me of something my ex-husband used to say to me when the subject of immigration came up: "Oui, mais t'es pas une bougnoule," meaning that French people didn't care that I wasn't French, because I had the right color of skin.

I guess some things will never change.

May 6, 2014 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger Canedolia said...

I was really interested to read this post because I saw the trailer for the film and had the impression that it was the bourgeoise parents who were the butt of the jokes more than the foreigners. If it's just a string of racist jokes, I'm glad we didn't go last weekend in the end.

Where did you go and see it? I would like to know the answers to The Paris Chronicles' questions about whether different audiences would find different parts funny.

May 6, 2014 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Haven't seen the film but I know the sentiment. "Oh, we weren't talking about Megan. She has a job, pays her taxes..." I'm sure my naturalization application was fast-tracked for those reasons. But I think it is the same in the US- sentiments towards hispanics or indians that don't exist towards europeans.

May 7, 2014 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Mil said...

I see what you mean, though I haven't seen the film. There does seem to be a lot of "acceptable" racism around here. And it rubs me the wrong way, too.

May 7, 2014 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Ksam said...

@Canedolia - that's actually a really good question. I went to see it at Montparnasse, so right in the heart of Paris.

May 9, 2014 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

A similar kind of racism is rampant in Italy too, only we have not even made it yet to the point where there are interracial marriages. I think it will probably start changing in a decade or so when the kids in school grow up - in many schools the children with native Italian parents are outnumbered by those with foreign-born parents, to the horror and angst of Italians.

I see many Italians attempt to insulate their children from "non-EU"'s whereas I attempt to insulate mine from unjustified racist comments.

May 9, 2014 at 11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not seen the movie (am in the US), but thanks for letting me know to avoid it. Interesting coincidence though, because I was just commenting on this type of racism in France to a friend. I do think that, as Americans, this type of approach is shocking to us. Also, I think it is an important point to note that as you said, people *born in France* are not considered French by some.

May 13, 2014 at 4:38 AM  
Blogger Duchesse said...

I saw that movie in Brussels with my husband and we both thought it was hysterically funny. It is a caricature of bigotry in the purest French tradition, like Rabbi Jacob. Far from glorifying prejudice, it showcased it in all its objectionable and grotesque glory. It also showed the universality of good will and acceptance through the bonding of the French and Ivoirien fathers at the end of the movie. I'm sure that there were bigots who laughed without realizing that the joke was on them, but that most people found it funny for the same reason that my husband and I did.

May 17, 2014 at 1:41 PM  
Blogger Marina said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 18, 2014 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Sara Louise said...

I hate to say this, but I'm not surprised by the reactions at all :(

May 19, 2014 at 9:08 PM  
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May 20, 2014 at 5:23 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Haven't seen it and won't, but thought of you this morning--France Inter mentioned it in the news around 7h, contrasting the multicultural spirit of the movie with the xenophobia of the FN, and wondering which of the two (movie turnout or recent election results) is a better indicator of current French attitudes. Having read your post and recoiled from some of the publicity for the movie myself, I found the exercise of contrasting the two a bit ironic. Then again, like The Paris Chronicals said, I tend to dislike "comedy" in general, if I don't find it outright offensive

May 30, 2014 at 10:06 AM  

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