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Petit Nicolas/Le petit Nicolas


Stars: Valerie Lemercier, Kad Merad, Sandrine Kiberlain, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Maxime Godart, Vincent Claude, Charles Vaillant, Victor Carles, Benjamin Averty, Germain Petit Damico

Director: Laurent Tirard

Says director and co-screenwriter Laurent Tirard of this attractive take on the best-selling "Le Petit Nicolas" books by Rene Goscinny (creator of Asterix) and Jean-Jacques Sempe, “Little Nicolas is universal, everyone can relate to him”.

That’s certainly true here.

Le Petit Nicolas should be a comic delight for most youngsters (except, sadly, those for whom subtitles are impossible or anathema). It’s a terrific children’s film, redolent with daffy dialogue and surreal situations designed to raise laughs even in the unfamiliar setting of 1960s France when the original novels became best-sellers. For adults, my guess is that its inherent comic voice and cynicism will prove to be more enjoyable than current American family comedies such as the ‘Wimpy Kid’ offerings. I found myself laughing a great deal at the splendid straight-faced lunatic humour and comic situations on offer. Which says much for the excellence of the subtitles, since my colloquial French is painfully limited.

At the start the schoolboy title character, cheerfully played by Godart, has just about everything he wants including wonderful (and engagingly eccentric) parents (Lemercier and Merad) and amenable and amusingly varied schoolmates.

Until, that is, his Utopian existence is shattered when he (wrongly as it transpires) believes he is about to have a brother and, with the help of his friends, sets out to raise the 500 francs needed to recruit a gangster to kidnap the infant when it arrives. Charming gags and funny situations keep the amusement level high when an unfortunate mix-up has the kids (wrongly) believing they have found their criminal and taking to brewing an Asterix-inspired strength potion and, later, using a roulette wheel in an attempt to raise the money…

Tiraud strikes an enjoyable balance between life at school where a dragon-lady supply teacher strikes terror into the youngsters, a zany medical examination where a psychologist ends up in need of therapy himself after the pupils’ unlikely reactions to the Rorsach tests he exposes them to, and the visit to the school by the Minister of Education to equally off-centre life in the outside world where Merad’s disaster prone driving lesson ends in a brilliant if unintentional exhibition of parallel parking and Lemercier’s boss’ disaster-driven dinner with his employee.

It’s no masterpiece, of course, but it is good fun, certainly charmant and unexpectedly so.

Alan Frank

France/Belgium 2009. UK Distributor: Soda Pictures. Colour.
91 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 19 Aug 2012