‘Bienvenue’ takes on U.K.

French comedy faces foreign box office challenge

LONDON — French laffer “Bienvenue chez les ch’tis” (Welcome to the Sticks, for U.K. release) may be the highest-grossing French film of all time on home turf and an overnight Gallic cultural phenomenon, but getting non-French speakers interested could be quite a bit more challenging.

The first test of whether the hit pic can tickle foreign funny bones came last week in the U.K., where the laffer quietly debuted on a single screen April 1 via Pathe.

That one screen is at London’s Cine Lumiere, an upmarket site catering largely to London’s French community and other sophisticated auds. In its first two days, pic grossed $6575, for a respectable per screen average of $3287.

The crowdpleasing comedy has swelled the coffers of Pathe in France to the tune of $154 million .

So why hasn’t it generated more interest across the English channel?

Part of the reason is the perception that the brand of humor won’t travel. In one of its few reviews from the Brit crix, the Guardian’s Andrew Pulver described it as “a nice heart-warming little comedy that, to general astonishment, has destroyed all comers at the French box office,” but noted that it “probably won’t have too much play outside France, in all honesty, as most of the gags seem to revolve around the local-yokel habitues of the Pas-de-Calais area.”  

That seems to be the consensus from Brit industryites, even though the north/south divide comedy angle is shared by the English — northerners are often stereotyped as dour and southerners as softies.

“The idea is to generate interest at the exclusive Lumiere April 1-24 run before rolling it out in upmarket London venues and key cities through the summer,” explains John Fletcher, m.d. of distribution at Pathe Prods. U.K.

Two London sites and dates in seven other cities across the U.K. are booked. Even so, it’s hardly a big release for a pic that has displayed whammo crowdpleasing form in France.

“I can’t understand it myself,” commented a London distrib, adding “‘Bienvenue’ has a good premise, and there is definitely is an appetite for foreign-language fare in the U.K. How can exhibition ignore those French figures?”

Earlier this year, “Asterix at the Olympic Games” — also out via Pathe in France — made monster moolah in France but failed catch on in Blighty.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for French titles at the U.K. B.O. Last year, Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose” and thriller “Tell No One” both topped one million admissions.

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