Two extremes of French society — delinquents raised in concrete housing projects and small-minded farmers living off the land (and European Union subsidies) — are thrown together to comic and subtly educational effect in “Camping a la ferme.” Venture is strained in places, but, thanks to the thesps, there’s something ultimately touching about this school of fish-out-of-water ensembler. Helmed by Jean-Pierre Sinapi (“Uneasy Riders”) from a script by sociologist Azouz Begag (who in June was named as France’s minister for social equality), modest pic is doing OK in a crowded summer and could certainly find fest slots.
Social assistant Amar (Roschdy Zem) is in charge of six small-time wheeler-dealers whose only option for staying out of prison is to serve a month in a volunteer labor program. The surprisingly gung-ho female mayor (Nadine Marcovici) of a small farming community welcomes the ragtag mixed-race miscreants with greater enthusiasm than do most of her all-white rural constituency. Notable exception is Anais (Julie Delarme) who lives with her father (Jean-Francois Stevenin) and slightly retarded younger brother Leo (Mickael Masclet ).
The kid of Italian descent who’s a convert to Islam ends up repairing the church bell tower; the entrepreneur in a suit struggles to keep his shoes clean while chaperoning an elderly farmer who has 72 consecutive harvests to his credit; two stoners assigned to make a soccer field out of waist-high weeds introduce one key local to their kind of weed, etc. When racism rears its head, it is not benign — script handles the tension with tact and imagination.
Pic is definitely riddled with stereotypes on both the urban and rural fronts but, taking its cue from 1970s-style Italian comedies, there’s biting social commentary under the yucks for those who care to look.