TJFF 2012: ‘Let My People Go!’ is a cheerfully fun film that’s sadly unfunny

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Let My People Go!

Directed by Mikael Buch

Written by Mikael Buch and Christophe Honoré

France, 2011

While confiding with his Rabbi, Ruben (Nicolas Maury) begins checking off his laundry list of foibles. From his precarious relationship with a schoolteacher in Finland to his exhausting family problems back home in France, Ruben becomes disillusioned with his fate and his faith, declaring how his life is “one bad Jewish joke”.

Let My People Go!, a film about Ruben’s said life problems, is, as predicted, exactly as he describes. Earnest while being endearing, it’s a cheerfully fun film that’s sadly unfunny.

In a small, idyllic Finnish town, Ruben is enjoying the good life, working as a cheerful postal carrier and living with his blonde bombshell boyfriend, Teemu (Jarkko Niemi). However, when Ruben delivers a package of spurious intentions, he’s forced to pack his bags and head back to France.

Once home, he is unceremoniously welcomed back to his family, and all of there individual nuisances. As the story unfolds, Ruben is exposed to other people’s dirty laundry, which he begrudgingly has to add onto his ever-growing list.

For all of its serious and good-natured inquisitiveness, the central narrative, if you could find one, never rises above cheesy melodrama. In order to draw attention to Ruben’s inner turmoil and his family’s inherent abnormality, the script will often call for a series of different subplots, which rarely interweave, rarely tie together, and are rarely of any great consequence.

For example, one of the characters, a lawyer named Mr. Goldberg, is added to Ruben’s path of self-destruction for no other purpose than to be humorous and to let Ruben, through the Goldberg, tell the audience exactly how he’s feeling. This happens on more than one occasion, and to more than one superfluous character (like the previously mentioned Rabbi, a police chief, a paramour, and a certain forest patrolman).

These sequences are carelessly scattered throughout the story, adding an arbitrary nature to the experience. Furthermore, the film’s major MacGuffin, the mysterious package, is dropped, lost and forgotten for an unreasonable amount of time, with the film choosing, instead, to focus on the family melodrama.

This decision proves costly because the scenarios that crop up are usually disingenuous, improbable, and fake. The many family problems that the film posits are unoriginal and generic in nature, becoming predictable and foreseeable from a distance. All of this causes the narrative to be disappointing and unsatisfying.

The few positives from the film come from its cheeky tone and willingness to be unabashed. While never being too outlandish, the film doesn’t shy away from unorthodox events, such as the depiction of gay sex. The characters are interesting, if common and stock, and the performances themselves add a small point of interest.

But, as progressive and open-minded as the characters are, Let My People Go! nevertheless falls into indie genre stereotypes.

– Justin Li

Visit the official website for the TJFF

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