As a change from the previous films that I have selected from this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival line-up, Rien à déclarer (Nothing to Declare) is a comedy. The film is directed by Dany Boon, a French comedian-actor-director who I have grown to like after seeing several of his films (Micmacs and Mon meilleur ami).
The story took place around 1993, when custom checkpoints around the French and Belgium borders were abolished. In a bordertown of Courquain (French) / Koorkin (Belgium), Ruben Vandevoorde (Benoît Poelvoorde) is a fanatic customs official from the Belgian side who thinks that he is the last bastion of decency against the invasion of the French, who he derisively calls cheese-eating frogs. He is forced to work together with Mathias Ducatel (Dany Boon) from the French side when a test mobile customs unit is formed. In this confusing time, a drug smuggler also tries to ramp up his business by smuggling cocaine from France to Belgium. On the home front, just to complicate matters a bit, Mathias has also been seeing Ruben’s sister, Louise (Julie Bernard) secretly.
The tension and the humour in the movie revolve around Mathias’ relationship with Louise and the insults and jokes that the French and the Belgians heap on each other. The exaggerated hatred is probably meant to reflect the racism and suspicion against foreigners in Europe. The not-so subtle message that we should share and live together is presented through the humour as well as the conversations that Ruben has with his son. Dany Boon plays a similar role as in Micmacs and Mon meilleur ami as somebody who is sincere and with a great heart but a bit awkward and naïve. He’s probably carving his niche through this type of characters.
Rien à déclarer is an enjoyable movie when you don’t expect too much from it – the characters are predictable and some of the humour is simple and slapsticky. It’s hard to dislike Dany Boon though, and with equally good performance from Benoît Poelvoorde, you’ll probably laugh along and enjoy the story.