A Cute Little Farce, by Jack Fleischer
Let My People Go is a film about a young man dealing with family. He’s gay, Jewish, and living a simple and happy life with his husband in Finland, when a surprise at work forces him out of his comfortable life, and into the insanity of his Parisian family just in time for the Passover holiday. This stylistic comedy is light, fluffy, and is about as farcical a farce as can be farced.
The picture launches in a bright Benetton colored Finland that lends itself easily to this familiar modern fairy tale. Our lead, Ruben, (Paris, je t’aime’s Nicolas Maury) bursts forth from his cozy bed and eagerly readies himself for his day as a mailman. That day one of the regulars on his delivery route signs for a package, and opens it to discover … the MacGuffin.
It doesn’t seem a spoiler to point out that the plot doesn’t have much to do with the movie. Some might take issue with the fact that the story is such a small and skeletal whisp of a thing, but this film is character driven – question is, does it succeed?
One of the issues that present when dealing with a film in translation is that subtle nuance in the language can be lost or misinterpreted. Add to that the problem of comedy traveling cross-culturally (notoriously a victim of spoilage). To be fair I speak neither French nor Finnish, but these characters often fall short of full realization. As this is a farce the characters are broad and cartoonish. The women are dotting and caring. The men are lusty or angry. The only person with much depth is our main man Ruben. Yet even he is reduced to mugging and crying over plot points, rather than propelling things forward. Perhaps there is some sort of depth here, but as an English speaker, I wasn’t able to find it.
The performances are good. Each of these actors bring a sincere “joie de vivre” to their cartoonish roles, a fact to be applauded and appreciated. The truth is I cared about them. Well, I cared about them, as much as I care about a kitten in a Internet video who is stuck in a box. I feel for the cat. I am amused. Yet, my depth of concern and involvement is limited.
When it comes down to it, this movie is a lot like a cat video. It’s cute, and I stay involved in order to have the satisfaction of resolution. Other than that, there isn’t a plot or character I feel I can relate to. The humor in this movie is not subtle, and seems to milk a lot of familiar goats (not a saying… yet). At the risk of sounding very white bread, I think the humor might have more nuance and impact if I were French, religiously Jewish, or Gay.
Let My People Go only falls short in that it doesn’t make the effort to rope in its audience, make them think, or challenge them. This is a film about dealing with family, and while it would seem that there would be a great many universal truths to mine here, it seems comfortable to live with the easy laugh.
Technically it is well done. There are some beautiful shots, and its depiction of a candy coated Finland, and a cramped and claustrophobic Paris, was visually catchy. The music direction too is kitschy, and quirky in a way that is perhaps expected, but entertaining.
Let My People Go is a film that doesn’t stretch boundaries, challenge preconceptions, and doesn’t even have a plot to speak of – but it is … cute. Well, I suppose if you speak French, lived in Paris, or have ever owned a dry cleaners there may be more here for you.