27.12.08

People from the North

Liverpool Wall of Fame: sadly representative of the contrast between economics and cultural wealth.



Human warmth.

There is this weird thing about people coming from the North. I say "weird" because, the North of France is on the same parallel as the South of England, and yet inhabitants from Newcastle, Durham, etc. have more in common with French citizens of Arras or Lens than their cousins from Cornwall. I could have said "weird" because of their common use of strange language, not to say dialect, that puzzled the rest of their respective nations. It would seem that your relative geographical position instates some kind of cultural determinism.

Most of the time, people from these regions are mocked for their hearthy culture, their lack of sophistication, their pub crawling habits... But this year they had their revenge. On both sides of the Channel, the North stroke back.

There is a quote in French that says that "people from the North have in their heart the warmth they don't have outside". This year has proved to me that this adage was true, with two encounters with the bespoke cultures. On the one hand, Dany Boon's blockbuster "Welcome to the Sticks" (Bienvenue chez les Ch'ti), on the other hand "Billy Elliot" the musical.

Since both of them fully deserved it, I wanted to dedicate this article to them, and through these lines pay my tribute to these regions which deserve to be recognised for more than the stereotypes still associated to them.


Crying twice.

I will be brief with "Bienvenue chez les Ch'ti" because I have already written an extensive article about this film which is now the second best performing film ever in France: 20 329 376 tickets sold, 650 000 DVD only on the first day it was released. This represents just a few tickets less than Titanic, not bad for a local comedy with limited marketing firepower.

The pitch is the following: a post office manager from Marseille is transfered to the North because he tried to bribe a colleague to get a promotion. From his point of view, this is the worst punishment ever, until he discovers the truth behind the clich├ęs. Up North, it may be wet and cold, people may speak with a strange accent, neverthless the encounters you make there will change your life for ever. A quote that illustrates this synospsis: "When coming to the North, people from other parts of the Hexagon cry twice: once when they arrive, once when they leave...".

This tremedous success has spread beyond French borders. The film was a hit in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland... The rights have been bought by Will Smith himself who wants to direct a remake, just like the Italians will do. That is the power of the North: making you weeping with laughter.

Striking the stage.

Same cardinal point, different country, different emotions. In Billy Elliot musical, you may laugh at times, but you cannot avoid being touched by the feelings conveyed by the story of this little boy fighting through tough times to make his way to become a ballet dancer. Although both regions share a lot, like their mining history and the social difficulties they went through when coal mines had to close one after the other, the musical decided to shade a different light on the events.

The Billy Elliot story is set against the background of the British miners' strike of 1984/85 and charts the fortunes of the striking men alongside Billy's personal struggle to become a dancer in a world of hard hats and boxing gloves:



I must admit that I was reluctant to pay my visit to the Victoria theatre. I saw the movie on TV once and was not specifically keen on seeing more of it. And yet, I walk pass the the theater everyday, so I dragged myself in one night to buy some tickets. Having resisted any further would have been a mistake. The show conveys political messages, social hopes, touching lyrics, astonishing decors, and brilliant on-stage performances by actors of all ages. It also allowed me to discover another part of the British modern history through the voices of these people on stage. This is really rich an experience that I strongly recommend to anybody reading these lines.


Be it through comedy or through touching musicals, people from the North do have something in common: they tell great stories. So next time I will be asked where the heck is the North, instead of pointing my forefinger in the right direction, I might be tempted to raise another finger, my thumb. Thanks for these great moments.

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