More than 20 million people, close to a third of the French population, went to see Boon’s Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis at the cinema following its release in 2008. This made it the biggest domestic success in the history of French cinema.
Less well-known overseas, the comedy poked fun at the cultural divide between the north and south of France. In the following years, in large part thanks to the film, tourism to the northern town of Bergues boomed as did sales of Maroilles – a particularly pungent northern cheese.
The typically silly oeuvre from Dany Boon was even shown at a private screening in the Elysée Palace.
“When you talk to French cinephiles, they don’t want you to talk about Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis. They want you to talk about Jean-Luc Godard and pretentious people like that,” 25-year-old fan Tamara Bouhl told The Local. “For me Dany Boon represents popular comedy.”
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“Boon is a pioneer in his field,” said 27-year old comedian, Gauthier Germain. “He has given a certain momentum to the renewal of comedy in France.”
A new release
On October 20th, Boon will release a new film on Netflix, 8 Rue de l’Humanité. The story unfolds in an apartment building in Paris in the midst of the first Covid lockdown. It touches on the residents’ anxieties, creativity and, crucially, their common humanity.
Boon directed this new film and acted in it, playing an absurdly deranged hypochondriac, constantly armed with a thermometer.
The trailer features his character having an impossibly large testing swab inserted into his nose – his subsequent groan is so loud that it rings through the city, accompanied by a wide pan over the 9th arrondissement.
In another scene, we see him walking the street with a swimming mask and snorkel covering his entire face. The police stop him to check his attestation de déplacement (one of the permission forms people needed to leave their house during lockdown) and ID documents. Boon proceeds to feverishly lick clean the inside of the mask so that the officers can see his face.
If the premise seems surreal and buffoonish, the intention is not.
Speaking to BFMTV at the film’s premier, Boon said: “I have always liked telling stories that have depth – to create characters that are quite detestable but who show glimpses of humanity, tenderness and kindness.”
“Often we are not nice and we are negligent because we don’t have time. Life is too fast. We are here but not really present because we are on our phones, working, travelling or running around. The fact that the whole world stopped and we were locked down in our homes meant that we could actually get to know our neighbours – people living in our buildings who we would otherwise see but not really know.”
The rise of Netflix
The film will reportedly also be broadcast on a major French television channel. But the fact that it will not be shown at cinemas is reflective of the growing cultural power of Netflix in France.
Earlier this year the platform announced plans to cultivate deeper roots in the country, scaling up its production and promotion of French films and series while building partnerships with various film schools across the country.
Its detective series, Lupin, was watched by more than 70 million people within one month of being put online and was the first French series to rank among the top ten most watched in the United States.