City Paper is not for tourists
Presumably the makers of Little Indian, Big City pocketed a few francs for licensing their film, a box-office smash in sophisticated France, to the vulgarians at Disney. Had they taken the long view, however, they might have considered paying Disney not to show their creation in the U.S. After all, in the future, the American response to any French attempt to protect its esteemed film industry from Hollywood’s shabbiness could simply be: Little Indian, Big City.
If the release of this crude farce makes the defenders of French cinema look ridiculous, it doesn’t reflect much better on the Americans who bought it. Previously, Disney has remade several slapsticky French hits, and it’s unclear why the company didn’t do the same with Indian, a routine comedy about an Amazon-raised boy on his first trip beyond the jungle. Dubbing verbose French into blunter English is inherently dangerous, and French cultural attitudes frequently don’t translate any better. Besides, the big city of the title is humane, unthreatening Paris, where the most menacing creatures are probably the waiters. New York, Chicago, or L.A. all offer more dramatic possibilities for culture clash.
Perhaps Disney thought the American heartland would applaud Indian’s central moral, which is that workaholic father Stephan (Thierry Lhermitte) should spend less time at the brokerage and more time with his wife and son, Mimi-Siku (Ludwig Briand). Since Stephan hasn’t seen his wife since she fled to Venezuela 12 years ago, and doesn’t even know he has a son, he can perhaps be excused for shirking his paternal duties. His planned second marriage to a new-age twit is unacceptable by either French or American standards, however, and once Stephan discovers that Mimi-Siku exists, a few thousand miles can hardly be expected to keep them apart. (As in American films, money is only a problem for Indian’s characters when the gangster subplot kicks in.)
Preparing to marry the odious Charlotte (Arielle Dombasle), Stephan travels up a tropical tributary to get divorce papers signed by Patricia (Miou Miou). Once there, he meets Mimi-Siku and is quickly persuaded to take him back to Paris, home of the boy’s emblematic but improbable obsession, the Eiffel Tower. Mimi-Siku’s jungle demeanor shocks Charlotte, flusters an elderly neighbor, and causes a minor crisis when the boy runs off with his new true love, 12-year-old Sophie (Pauline Pinsolle). Meanwhile, Stephan is distracted by a bad soybean-futures deal that has gotten him entangled with the Russian mafia. As the son learns how to pass for civilized, of course, the father learns the usual lessons about the value of family.
So predictable that it makes another lame Franco-American farce, The Birdcage, look lively by comparison, Indian is hack work in any language. Director Hervé Palud (who also co-wrote the script) reduces the Amazon to a few creepy-crawlies and even makes inept use of Paris’ tallest landmark. First, he has Mimi-Siku walk all over town—and right by the Disney Store—to reach the Eiffel Tower, even though establishing shots have clearly shown that the edifice is right next to Stephan’s apartment. Then he stages a dramatic climb up the tower only to cut away before anyone (except for one couple in the cafe) has noticed the boy is there.
American audiences are used to comic ineptitude, but even Pauly Shore fans may be unprepared for how blithely patronizing the film is toward the Amazon Indians. (Mimi-Siku’s name, in a characteristic gag, turns out to mean “cat pee.”) As for the intensity of Mimi-Siku’s make-out sessions with Sophie, this is the sort of thing that definitely separates the Left Bank from the Magic Kingdom. Perhaps French audiences were edified to find Mimi-Siku, formerly something of a philanderer, confessing his new all-consuming lust for Sophie while Stephan realizes that he is still in love with Patricia. At the risk of sounding American, though, let me just point out that these kids are 12 years old.CP