Dir/scr:Lea Fazer. Fr-Switz. 2004. 107mins.
Awould-be crowd-pleasing comedy, Lea Fazer's one-joke comedy of culturalmisunderstandings squanders a talented cast and quickly wears out its welcome.
Ahighly inappropriate selection to open the Un Certain Regard section at Cannesthis year, the film is too broad to appeal on the festival circuit, and is tooculturally specific to be of much commercial interest anywhere other than thefilm's countries of origin, Switzerland and France. It is the thorny love-haterelationship between these neighbouring countries which fuels the film'splethora of cliche-ridden gags.
Onthe other hand, one could easily imagine a US-Canadian or English-Scottishremake, though either would be equally unappetising.
Frenchcomic favourite Denis Podalydes once again plays the harassed, nerdyintellectual he made his own in the films he made with director brother Bruno.In Welcome To Switzerland he plays Thierry, a Swiss-born ethnologistliving in Paris who has a very equivocal relationship to his country of origin.
Whenhis grandmother dies, he and girlfriend Sophie (Devos) travel to Switzerland,where extrovert smoothie cousin Alois (Perez) announces that a vast amount ofmoney has been left to Alois and his two siblings in a will that will reconcilea long-standing family rift.
Thierrystands to make a huge amount of money, if only he can win over his two grouchyand fiercely patriotic Swiss uncles (Luoend and Wyssbrod). The only way to dothis is to impress them with his Swissness, hence a visit to the Alps, duringwhich Alois promises to make Thierry more Swiss than himself.
Thisinvolves mastering several national arts, including milking cows,mountaineering and yodelling, an ordeal that proves exhausting for Thierry andprovides the conniving Alois a chance to hit on a more than receptive Sophie.
Thefilm establishes its points of reference early on in gags about such supposednational traits as obsessive cleanliness, pathological politeness andpunctuality. By the time the humour moves on to clocks, cows and chocolate,director-writer, Fazer has exhausted every possible national stereotype, andalthough the film feigns to tilt at cliches, it actually exploits them in atotally mechanical fashion. It certainly says no more about Switzerland innearly two hours than Orson Welles's Harry Lime said in one sentence.Less-than-subtle situation comedy means that there is little room for thecharacters to register anything outside outrage or embarrassment.
Podalydesis an initially engaging presence but there is the feeling that he has done hishighbrow nebbish routine once too many, and the extremely talented Devos iswasted as a character who - seemingly against Fazer's intentions - actuallybecomes less sympathetic as the film goes on.
Thescene-stealer is Vincent Perez, playing knowingly on his matinee-idol image,the filmatic twist being that his character is an out-and-out creep from thestart. The subtlest performance, however, is Marianne Basler, as Thierry'ssister, deserted by her husband: when she is on screen, the film actually takeson a human touch.
Uneasilypoised between a comedy of manners and outright farce, the film eventuallybecomes quite embarrassing to watch, not least in a sequence involving animpromptu performance art piece with rubbish bags (or 'happening', as it istermed here), a routine that would have felt dated 20 years ago.
Afacetious score and flip animated inserts add to the awkwardness, leaving noless nasty a taste in the mouth than the chocolate on which Thierry's familyfortune is supposedly built.
Prodcos: ArenaFilms, Arcade, Vega Film, Television Suisse Romande
Int'l sales: Pathe
Music: LoikDury, Laurent Levesque
Eds: Herve de Luze, Elise Fievet
Prod des: OlivierRadot
Main cast: DenisPodalydes, Emmanuelle Devos, Vincent Perez, Walo Luoend, Peter Wyssbrod,Marianne Basler