‘Let My People Go!’ movie review


Ruben (Nicolas Maury), a mailman in Finland, has a delivery that turns into awindfall, driving him back to his family in France in the farce “LetMy People Go!” (Image courtesy of Zeitgeist Films)
March 14, 2013

The frothily farcical “Let My People Go!” revolves around a sad sack named Ruben (Nicolas Maury), a French Jew working as a mailman in Finland, where he lives in a candy-colored village with his hunky blond boyfriend, Teemu (Jarrko Niemi). All is well, in a cartoonish sort of way, until one of Ruben’s customers apparently drops dead one morning, leaving Ruben holding the envelope he was trying to deliver, which is filled with a fat wad of cash.

When Teemu — understandably — questions the propriety of Ruben keeping the money, the ensuing argument propels Ruben out of his picture-postcard existence and temporarily back into the arms of his decidedly more three-dimensional French family, which runs a dry-cleaning business in Paris.

Mom (Carmen Maura) is a noodge. Dad (Jean-Francois Stevenin) has a mistress (Aurore Clement). Sis (Amira Casar) is in the middle of an ugly divorce from her gentile husband (Charlie Dupont). And the gray-haired family lawyer (Jean-Luc Bideau) keeps trying to get Ruben into bed, despite the fact that he still loves Teemu.

Set in the days leading up to Passover, the feature directorial debut by Mikael Buch is a hot, noisy mess, and not especially funny, except in the way that Ruben responds to the insanity swirling all around him. Maury has the face of a silent-movie comedian, reacting to such scenes as an antic fistfight between his brother (Clement Sibony) and his sister’s husband with an expression that’s halfway between a put-upon deadpan and abject horror.

Everything happens to Ruben. But otherwise there’s not much about him that we are allowed to know, or care about. It’s all on the surface.

Buch, who wrote the script with Christophe Honore (“Beloved”), has created a character that, while colorful, relies a bit too heavily on Jewish and gay stereotypes. Halfway through, Ruben’s nebbish passivity and whining start to wear thin, as do such broad gags as a fantasy sequence involving an aerosol “Jewish spray” that turns assimilated subjects into bearded, forelocks-wearing Hasidim. “My life,” Ruben says, with a fair degree of accuracy, “is one bad Jewish joke.”

In the end, as Ruben’s family finally sits to enjoy the Passover Seder, the contemporary resonance of the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt — echoed in the line “We’ve suffered enough” — may take on unintended meaning for some in the audience.

Unrated. At the West End Cinema. Contains obscenity, sex and some fighting. In French, Finnish and some English with English subtitles. 86 minutes.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Michael O’Sullivan has worked since 1993 at The Washington Post, where he covers art, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture.
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