'Sticks' helmer to poke fun at cross-border rivalry

Dany Boon will helm “Nothing to Declare,” a follow-up to his B.O. hit “Welcome to the Sticks.”

Currently prepping to lense, “Declare” is being brought to the marketplace at the Berlin Fest by Pathe Intl. Germany’s Prokino, which distributed “Sticks,” has already taken all German rights to “Declare.”

Pathe and Boon’s label, Les Productions du Ch’timi, are producing “Declare,” along with Scope Pics and TF1 Films Prods. “Declare” is co-financed by Gallic paybox Canal Plus, CineCinema and Belgium’s Wallone region. Pathe Intl. is selling worldwide rights outside France and Belgium. Pathe Distribution will distribute in France.

Given its action scenes and large-scale construction, “Declare” is budgeted at E20 million ($27.2 million), Boon said.

A romantic comedy like “Sticks,” “Declare” pokes fun at prejudice. Written and directed by Boon, the film is set at a France-Belgium customs post joining the French village of Couquain and the Belgian village of Koorkin. Benoit Poelvoorde plays Ruben Vandevoorde, a dyed-in-the-wool Belgian bigot who works as a zealous customs officer. Boon limns his French counterpart, the far more tolerant Mathias Ducatel, who carries a torch for Ruben’s sister Louise (to be played by Belgian stage actress Julie Bernard), who runs a chocolate shop.

Mathias sets out to win Louise’s hand and “to demonstrate to Ruben that not all French people are arrogant,” said Boon.

Action unspools between spring 1986, when the border is buzzing with life, and 1993, when the customs posts are closed, forcing Ruben and Mathias to partner in the first mixed French-Belgian cross-border patrol. A subplot has former restaurateurs turning to a small-time trade in contraband drugs and cigarettes to make ends meet.

Karin Viard (“Change of Plans”), Francois Damiens (“JCVD”) and Belgian thesp-director Bouli Lanners (“Eldorado”) co-star.

Jerome Seydoux and Eric Hubert produce.

Principal photography begins Tuesday on the France-Belgium border, continuing through May 12.

Boon said he felt he could push the envelope further on this film’s satire.

“Sticks” gently satirized “a capitalist society in which people forget to be happy with what they’ve got,” said Boon. “Declare” ribs “a nationalist society where people don’t realize they can be happy with what other countries have got.”

“Declare,” said Boon, is about “the absurdity of racism; in reality, France and Belgium are two really close countries, like cousins.”

Like “Sticks,” set in Boon’s northern France Ch’tii homeland, “Declare” is a film from the heart, Boon told Variety.

Boon was born 400 yards from the Belgian border. His father was born in northern Africa, but married a woman from northern France. On tour to promote “Sticks,” he said he passed by the old customs post.

“When I knew the border, it was buzzing with customs guards, shops, stores,” he recalled. “Now it’s like a ghost street in a Western. It was very sad, and very cinematographic.”

The film’s main set reconstructs the border Boon once knew. “It’s so universal to tell a story about a border,” he added.

Boon is just back from tubthumping the bows of “Sticks” in Argentina and Brazil.

“Sticks” taught Boon “you can tell very personal stories which can work all around the world” — and then some. “Sticks” became the highest-grossing French film on home turf in history, grossing $162.4 million in 2008. But, outside France, it took in a robust $53.7 million, including hauls of $9.1 million in Belgium, $4.2 million in Italy (which now has a local-language remake, “Bienvenuti al Sud”), $4.7 million in Spain and a whopping $19.6 million in Germany.

Will Smith’s Overbrook picked up English-language remake rights.

The Prokino coin ponied up at Berlin is likely to rep one of this year’s biggest Berlinale deals. Sale was made by Muriel Sauzay, Pathe Intl. exec VP, international sales, and Prokino CEO Ira Von Gienanth.

“The phenomenal success of ‘Welcome to the Sticks’ derives from its undeniable potential to cross all borders,” said Von Gienanth and Prokino co-CEO Stephan Hutter.

“In ‘Nothing to Declare,’ Dany Boon’s storytelling is brilliant, heartwarming, lucid and hilarious and will strike a nerve with everyone,” they added.

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