Production-designed to the max, absurdist comedy from tyro French helmer Mikael Buch offers an unholy alliance of camp and farce that both celebrates and mocks gay and Jewish stereotypes.

In Finland, a few days before Passover, a series of misunderstandings result in the breakup of a Frenchman and his Finnish lover, sending the Frenchman reeling back to Paris and his dysfunctional family just in time for the Jewish holiday. Production-designed to the max, tyro French helmer Mikael Buch’s absurdist comedy “Let My People Go!” offers an unholy alliance of camp and farce that both celebrates and mocks gay and Jewish stereotypes. For viewers with a tolerance for this kind of humor, pic reps entertaining festival fodder with natural appeal to two strong niche audiences.

An appropriately fairy-tale prologue intros Reuben (Nicolas Maury, who spent four months learning Finnish), spoiled scion of a French dry-cleaning empire, who went to Finland for a graduate degree in comparative sauna cultures and wound up as a village postman in order to stay with hunky blond b.f. Teemu (Jarkko Niemi, bland). But one day when the delivery of a registered mail parcel containing a big wad of euros goes terribly awry, Teemu kicks Reuben out.

Returning to Paris, Reuben catches up with his ditzy Mom (Carmen Maura, who was better doing this sort of thing for Pedro Almodovar), irritable brother (Clement Sibony) and unhappily married sis (Amira Casar). To his distress, his father (Jean-Francois Stevenin) forces him to play tennis and meet his mistress (Aurore Clement).

At the Out of Egypt nightclub, an unexpected encounter with family friend, respected lawyer and pillar of the Jewish community Maurice Goldberg (pop-eyed Jean-Luc Bideau, hilarious), who is randier than an old goat, leaves Reuben missing Teemu more than ever. Meanwhile, back in Finland, Teemu’s adventures with a friendly forest ranger (Olavi Uusirvita) inspire a desire for reconciliation with Reuben, a desire of which his glamorous mother (Outi Maenpaa, who nearly steals the show in her two short scenes) heartily approves.

The overbusy screenplay, co-written by Buch and his mentor, French helmer Christophe Honore (“Beloved,” “The Beautiful Person”), seems designed to facilitate as many name cameos as possible, resulting in some silly bits of business that slow the flow of the narrative and don’t support the overall plot as much as they might. Most amusing of the digressions, introduced by a never seen voiceover narrator, include a commercial for a spray, taglined “Jewish in a jiffy,” that can convert goyim to Judaism on contact.

Unfortunately, the script fails to render the characters sympathetically, making it difficult to take a rooting interest in whether Reuben and Teemu will reunite. Thesping is all over the place, with Maury and Bideau most in tune with the exaggerations of farce. Nevertheless, some viewers may have a bone to pick with Maury’s mincing, prancing and weird falsetto.

Definitely not afraid of theatricality, the craft credits, particularly production design, are everything they should be. Use of vintage effects such as iris shots also help set the mood.

Les Films du Losange plans a domestic rollout Dec. 28.

Let My People Go!

France

Production

A Les Films Pelleas production, in association with France 2 Cinema, Jouror Prods., with the participation of Orange Cinema Series, Canal Plus, France Television, CNC de L'image Animee, with the support of Le Region Ile-de-France, in partnership with CNC, in association with Sofica Cineimage 5, Uni Etoile 8. (International sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris.) Produced by Philippe Martin, Geraldine Michelot. Directed by Mikael Buch. Screenplay, Christophe Honore, Buch.

Crew

Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Celine Bozon; editor, Simon Jacquet; music, Eric Neveux; art director, Gwendal Bescond; costume designer, Anais Romand; sound (Dolby Digital), Mathieu Villien, Benoit Hillebrant, Stephane Thiebaut. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (First Films, competing), Aug. 22, 2011. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Nicolas Maury, Carmen Maura, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Amira Casar, Clement Sibony, Jarkko Niemi, Jean-Luc Bideau, Kari Vaananen, Outi Maenpaa, Aurore Clement, Charlie Dupont, Olavi Uusirvita. (French, Finnish dialogue)

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