Review: It Happened in Saint-Tropez (Thompson, 2013) – SVJFF 2014

Still from the movie It Happened in Saint-Tropez

The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival is currently underway with movies playing every Saturday to Wednesday until November 12th. If you haven’t yet gone to a showing, you can still make a few before the festival is over.

On Sunday evening we caught SVJFF’s French comedy It Happened in Saint-Tropez, featuring a modern dysfunctional family centered around two bickering brothers: Zef (Eric Elmosnino), a religious, traditional classical violinist, and Roni (Kad Merad), a wealthy, irreverent diamond jeweler. Both brothers have a single, beautiful daughter–Zef the sweet, earnest, strawberry blonde cellist Noga (Lou de Laâge), and Roni the fun-loving brunette heiress fashionista Melita (Clara Ponsot). Unlike the Betty and Veronica duo they faintly resemble, these cousins adore each other like the BFFs they are, without jealousy or rivalry. The only problem is that they are in love with the same man (played by Max Boublil).

The family is Jewish, though only Zef’s side seems to practice. (Roni is married to the Catholic Italian beauty queen Giovanna, who is played by Monica Bellucci, perhaps known to American audiences for her role as Persephone in the Matrix trilogy.) Much of the movie’s humor, too, is Jewish, and so a great deal flew over my head. Where a joke might have caused me to smile, it summoned uproarious laughter from our fellow audience members. Perhaps, as a result, this Jewishness was to be the most unique and interesting aspect of the movie to me.

The film remains light-hearted and fun throughout and refreshingly lacks any of the sticky sweet sentimental moments of which even the better American romantic comedies contain a dollop. You won’t mix laughter and tears here. Death is not sad, and neither is unrequited love. Despite Zef’s often doleful expression, the film is never serious, though it is not quite as flippant as Roni either. It dabbles in philosophy (not for long enough to bore viewers) and tries, in a superficial way, to reconcile the particularly Jewish duality of playful irreverence and long-faced seriousness. Unfortunately, the film’s frivolous tone, convenient plot twists, and predictable ribbing aren’t quite up to the task. Also, there’s a hokey-ness I’ve noticed that has lingered in foreign comedies that seems to have passed out of favor in their American counterparts. I confess that I don’t miss it a bit.

Still, if you’re willing to overlook these flaws, you’ll be entertained for an hour and a half, if nothing else by the eye candy (both the women and the scenery are lovely).

Note: The French title of the film is Des gens qui s’embrassent, which Google translates as “People Kissing”; though clumsy in English, “People Kissing” is still much more fitting (plot-wise, at least) than the unremarkable “It Happened in Saint-Tropez.”