One of my favorite things about high school French was reading a series of comics wittily written by René Goscinny (who tragically died in 1977 at the age of 51) and brilliantly illustrated by Albert Uderzo. The protagonists were Gauls in the time of Caesar, residents of the only village not conquered by Rome thanks to a secret magic potion, created by their druid, Panoramix, that gives those who drink it tremendous strength, even the diminutive Astérix. His friend Obélix, who delivers giant stone menhirs for a living, fell into the potion as an infant and hence doesn’t need to drink it to be ridiculously strong.
The books were hugely popular and translated into many other languages. There were feature-lengthy animated adaptations starting in the 1970s, but I only just learned that there is also a series of live-action movies that began in 2002. The first, a joint French-Italian-German production, was the biggest-budget French film of all time (at least without adjusting for inflation) until the record was broken by its sequel. It stars Gérard Depardieu (probably the best known living French actor) as Obélix and Chrisitan Clavier as Astérix, with Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni of Italy as a disreputable member of Caesar’s staff, Lucius Detritus.
Despite the big budget and major stars, the film isn’t available from Netflix. At first the only DVDs I could find were in French without English subtitles. I know some French, but nowhere near enough to follow a movie, so I kept looking. Finally I discovered that Amazon has a Korean release in French but with English as well as Korean subtitles.
The main plot involves Benigni’s attempt to overcome the Gaul’s magical advantage by kidnapping the druid Panoramix, who then of course has to be rescued by our heroes. A subplot involves Obélix’s infatuation with a strikingly beautiful young woman named Falbala, which I’m told is a fashion term meaning a flounce on a dress. (In the English subtitles she’s called Parafanalia.) Alas for Obélix, Falbala is smitten with the handsome young actor Tragicomix.
Like the original comics, this is a very broad farce, and if you’re not already a fan of Astérix and Obélix I’m not sure how you’d like it. Personally, I had a grand time. If I were French enough to get all the jokes, I’m sure it would have been even better.by