A Bras Ouverts  (With Open Arms) – Philippe de Chauveron

Philippe de Chauveron hit box-office gold with Serial ‘Bad’ Weddings in 2014. With over 12 million admissions it was the year’s most popular French film.  Its overtly rascist humour was too much for anglophone audiences and the film was not picked up by distributors either in the UK or the US.  But this didn’t stop people flocking to the cinema to watch the tale of a middle-class white man whose four daughters marry men of different ethnic origins.  After the disappointment of his last feature Embarquement Immediate!, de Chauveron is back on familiar, controversial ground with A Bras Ouverts,  a cliché-ridden, jaw-droppingly offensive film about a group of Romani who move in with a rich, French, bourgeois family.  Even before it hit the big screen, lead actor Christian Clavier was forced to publically defend the film for its outrageous portrayal of Romani people as thieves, beggars and half-wits.  Aside from the political incorrectness of A Bras Ouverts, de Chauveron’s film is completely devoid of any noticeable humour.  Clavier’s character Jean-Etienne Fougerole, (who the director says is based on French intellectuel Bernard Henri Levy), is an odious, walking caricature of a member of France’s left-wing intelligentsia.  Likewise his ‘bohemian’ artist wife Daphné (Elsa Zylberstein). There is not a single redeeming character on either side of the cultural divide and de Chauveron falls back on the worst form of racial and ethnic stereotyping right down to the Indian manservant.

A well-known figure on the French literary and media circuit, Jean-Etienne Fougerole is busy promoting his latest book which invites the rich to welcome the less well-off into their homes. During a televised debate, he is challenged by one of the guests to put his words into action and welcome a family into his own home. To save face, Fougerole accepts the challenge and finds himself playing host to a family of Romani.  And it’s time to find out the extent of Fougerole’s largesse.
With just over a week to go before the first round of voting in France’s presidential election, where immigration is high on the agenda of most candidates, A Bras Ouverts could not come at a worse time. Anti-immigrant tension is high and the country needs a good dose of racial tolerance.  In TV interviews, Clavier has bemoaned the fact France today is a lot less tolerant where comedy is concerned than years ago when films such as Louis de Funes’ The Mad Aventures of Rabbi Jacob were hugely popular with French audiences. Ary Abittan who plays the Romani patriarch Babik has also defended the film saying it is laughing with the Romani community and not mocking them. This is a fine line to draw in a film which deals only in the broadest of brush strokes. Serial ‘Bad’ Weddings was wildly successful, but three year’s later de Chauveron may have badly misjudged the political climate.

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