On the eve of the Cannes Film Festival showcasing the best of domestic and international film, it’s sobering to realise the French movie currently pulling in crowds in France is a cliché-ridden, tasteless comedy based on racial intolerance. After just three weeks on the big screen, Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu? has drawn an audience of over 5 million. It feels like the scenario was dreamt up after a lads-only, late-night drinking session along the lines of ‘What if an uptight, Catholic, white couple find their four beautiful daughters married respectively to an Arab, a Jew a Chinaman and an African? Or the beginning of one of those off-colour jokes popular decades ago.
The tone is set from the off As the groom’s names are announced at the elder three daughter’s weddings, the camera zooms in on Claude and Marie Verneuil (Christian Clavier and Chantal Lauby) and their increasing distress at the ethnic origins of their future sons-in-law. The last hope for a suitable marriage is dashed when the youngest daughter Laure (Elodie Fontan) announces her upcoming wedding to Charles (Noom Diawara), of Ivorian origin. Not only are Claude and Marie upset by the news, but the three sons-in-law are horrified by the idea of Charles joining the family and set about destroying his relationship with Laure. And, to show prejudice is not the privilege of France’s white, Bourgeoisie, Charles’ father André (Pascal N’Zonzi) turns out be as upset by his son’s choice of bride as Claude.
It’s an uncomfortable mix with the comedy targeting religious traditions and revelling in ethnic stereotypes. The highly-contrived – and predictable – ending with it’s message of Vive La Difference cannot dispel the uneasiness caused by the rest of the film. Clavier is a clever comic actor who has a knack for choosing popular, crowd-pleasing films. He was in 2013’s top grossing French film Les Profs and played alongside Gérard Depardieu in the successful string of Astérix & Obélix films. He also struck gold with Jean Reno in Jean-Marie Poire’s Les Visiteurs. And the Midas touch again seems in operation. It’s tempting to believe the popularity of Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu? rests on its witty analysis of a country coming to terms with a multi-cultural society. But, with the increased popularity of far-right parties in France, it raises the question of just who is flocking to the cinema to watch the film?