French Film Reviews: Débarquement Immédiat!

French Film Reviews: Débarquement Immédiat!

Débarquement Immédiat ! (Last Call For Nowhere) is France’s summer movie comedy. It’s a particular sort of comedy at a very particular time. Directed by Philippe de Chauveron, the movie touches on the expulsion of immigrants, human trafficking, and migrant camps. It also deals with tensions between police and people from the Maghreb (North Africa). Terrorism isn’t an explicit theme, but a lurking subtext. After 9/11 some proclaimed the “end of irony”. Can we in France still laugh? This viewer came to Débarquement Immédiat! with curiosity but no special urge to giggle.

The hero of Débarquement is José (Ary Abittan), a police officer working for a division dealing with illegal immigration, but who dreams of joining an elite brigade. His partner in anti-crime is Guy (Cyril Lecomte), who has the raffishness of a young Jack Nicholson. Guy tends to lead the good-hearted José astray, especially when it comes to women. When they accompany a deportee out of the country and have a lay-over in an airport hotel, an escapade with a pair of air hostesses gets mixed up with a Skype session with José’s girlfriend Maria (Reem Kherici). One narrative thread is José’s madcap efforts to get back into Maria’s good graces.

Ary Abittan

Actor Ary Abittan at the premier of “”Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon Dieu ?” in Enghien-les-Bains. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/ Georges Biard

If this sounds like an old-fashioned buddy film, with even more old-fashioned jokes (randy stewardesses?), it is—for a while. José’s problems are complicated when he and Guy are given a mission to take an undocumented immigrant back to his native Afghanistan. Karzaoui (Medi Sadoun) claims he isn’t really Karzaoui, that he’s North African, not Afghan … but the police have heard this before. When their Kabul-bound plane makes an emergency landing in Malta they go to another hotel, this time with their prisoner. Just as even great comics have no qualms about stealing jokes, the director happily shifts from cop buddy film to a variation on Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, about two naval police who transport a hapless prisoner to the pen, but show him a good time first. In Débarquement the adventures are mostly a by-product of Karzaoui’s frantic efforts to escape and rejoin his wife in Algeria (he really is a Maghrebin).

Qu’est qu’on a fait Au Bon Dieu?

Film poster for “Qu’est qu’on a fait Au Bon Dieu?”

The film’s cast resembles that of another hit comedy Qu’est qu’on a fait Au Bon Dieu? (also directed by de Chauveron). Both Abittan and Sadoun starred in that film about a Jew, Arab, Asian and African marrying into a bourgeois family. Bon Dieu was an ensemble movie, while in this film the trio of male leads must carry the film, which they do, with gusto. Abittan resembles George Clooney, but with a callow, TV-series presence. Yet he puts amazing comic energy into his role. Sadoun, on the other hand, clowns, mugs, and banters effortlessly. (Lecomte winds up the straight man, which is too bad—at his best he really is like a French Nicholson.)

The direction is capable but basic, as it tends to be in broad comedy. It recalls ‘60s American comedies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World which looked old-fashioned the second they hit the screen.  De Chauveron films the exotic setting in a way that’s pleasing but looks like it was done on order from the Maltese tourist board. Mostly he has the sense to stand out of the way and let his actors do their stuff. He must also be given credit for concocting outrageously absurd situations. Some fall in the category of stupid-but-funny, as when Karzaoui escapes carrying the radiator he’s handcuffed to. Others are gross-out riffs—like the pilot who loses his teeth to an irate woman’s head-butt. Somehow these scenes are more amusing than gross.

When Guy goes to hospital to recover from a heart attack brought on by a caffeine overdose (he and José had drunk 140 cups of coffee to counter the drugs Karzaoui slipped in their drinks at a disco where they went to meet women but which turned out to be have a lively gay dance floor—as they say, you had to be there), the movie shifts again. The Last Detail is out, The Defiant Ones is in, as José and Karzaoui become an unlikely duo. They wind up in the aforementioned migrant camp, which takes us in the direction of drippy social cinema, but the director’s low-down humor sneaks back in. When José (mistaken for a migrant) is about to escape from the camp with a death-defying dive off a roof, he’s advised by an African detainee that the camp’s gate is unlocked. (It’s just that there’s no place to go in the desolate area where it’s located).

Débarquement Immédiat! ends in an open-ended way that implies that the typical happy end is too facile nowadays. Nevertheless, the film celebrates while poking fun at the rambunctious multiculturalism that characterizes France (as a kind of unintended in-joke, Ary Abittan and Reem Kherici, who play José and Maria, are actually Sephardic Jewish and Tunisian). Best of all it serves as a pressure release in these tense times, and yes I did laugh, quite often, and out loud.

Production: Le Films du Premier/Les Films du 24/TF1 Films Production/TF1 Droits Audiovisuels

Distribution: UGC Distribution

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Dimitri Keramitas is director at the Paris Alumni Network (PAN) a professional organization of several hundred persons, and editor-in-chief of Panache, the PAN newsletter. He is also director of the creative writing program at WICE, and associate director of the Paris Writers Workshop.

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