In actor-turned-director Yvan Attal’s sketch comedy The Jews (Ils sont partout), the gimmick is to try and debunk various stereotypes about the titular people — “they’re rich,” “they hold all the power,” “they killed Jesus,” etc. — by turning said stereotypes on their heads. But the problem in this original if highly overwrought French pastiche is that Attal, who is Jewish himself, winds up inadvertently disproving another cliché, which is that Jews are supposed to be funny.
Not that humor is completely what the filmmaker is going for here, and, given the current political climate in France — where anti-Semitism is on the rise and terrorists have specifically targeted Jews in recent attacks — such an attempt to play down popular myths is certainly welcome. Too bad, then, that Attal is not really up to the level of his ambitions, delivering a botched comic medley that should see a bit of buzz for its French release but very little action outside festivals and a few niche distributors catering to Jews and goys alike.
What a schlep.
Linked together via scenes of Attal kvetching to a psychologist about the Jewish condition, each sketch takes its stated theme to the most absurd level possible, underlining how racial and religious prejudices are nothing short of ridiculous.
In the opening sequence, which plays off the idea that “they’re all from the same family,” the husband (Benoit Poelvoorde) of a politician (Valerie Bonneton) campaigning under the far-right Mouvement Pour la Nation Francaise — a vaguely disguised version of the National Front — discovers that his own grandmother was Jewish, throwing his professional and personal life into a tizzy. Another sketch features movie star Dany Boon as a two-time loser who starts dealing drugs in the banlieue to show that he can make it rich, until his parents suddenly win the lottery.
Such low-hanging comic fruit yields few laughs, though there’s a certain level of cleverness to each setup despite punchlines that often land with a light thud. The silliness reaches its apotheosis in a Hollywood-style “Jews killed Jesus” skit that has a slick Mossad agent (Gilles Lellouche) traveling back in time to murder Christ in his cradle, only to fall head over heels for the Virgin Mary and suffer the consequences.
Attal, who starred in such French thrillers as Rapt and Anthony Zimmer, while also playing a role in Steven Spielberg’s Munich, moved into directing with a series of autobiographical movies (My Wife Is an Actress, …And They Lived Happily Ever After) featuring his longtime partner Charlotte Gainsbourg. (In this film, she plays the trash-talking wife of Boon in what is definitely not her most flattering performance.)
There’s an autobiographical side to The Jews as well, and as Attal explains in the press notes, he was sick of always being the only Jewish person at a dinner party, or of feeling a growing sense of paranoia — as many French Jews have — regarding the surge of local anti-Semitism over the last decade or so. (The film’s original title translates to “they’re everywhere,” which applies to both anti-Semites decrying a Jewish conspiracy and to Jews who see everyone else as a possible anti-Semite.)
Yet despite such meaningful intentions, Attal fails to bring us along with him for the ride, and unlike the 1973 Louis de Funes classic The Mad Adventures of ‘Rabbi’ Jacob — many of whose scenes are still quoted to this day — The Jews ultimately feels less like a riot than an endless rant that keeps insisting on its own worthiness.
Tech credits are above par for this type of venture, with d.p. Remy Chevrin (Delicacy) and production designer Katia Wyszkop (Saint Laurent) providing a handsome aesthetic to accompany all the absurdity.
Production company: La Petite Reine
Cast: Yvan Attal, Benoit Poelvoorde, Valerie Bonneton, Dany Boon, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gregory Gadebois, Denis Podalydes, Gilles Lellouche, Francois Damiens
Director: Yvan Attal
Screenwriters: Yvan Attal, Emilie Freche
Producer: Thomas Langmann
Director of photography: Remy Chevrin
Production designer: Katia Wyszkop
Costume designer: Carine Sarfati
Editor: Jennifer Auge
Composer: Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine
Casting director: Pierre Jacques Benichou
Sales: Other Angle Pictures
Not rated, 111 minutes