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Film / The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob

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"Bah! I will keep you anyway..."
The Brick Joke showing Pivert's Character Development

Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob), often shortened to Rabbi Jacob, is a 1973 French comedy directed by Gérard Oury. It stars Louis de Funès in one of his most famous roles. Vladimir Cosma composed the soundtrack.

Jacob (Marcel Dalio) is a beloved rabbi from New York City who has lived there for 30 years. One day, the French side of his family, the Schmolls, invite him to preside over the Bar Mitzvah of his young nephew David. Jacob boards a plane to leave America for his birthland of France, and his young friend Rabbi Samuel comes with him.

Meanwhile in France, Victor Pivert (De Funès), a chauvinistic, bad-tempered and slightly xenophobic businessman, is on the way to his daughter's wedding. He and his driver Salomon (Henri Guybet) have a car accident in which Pivert's car (carrying a speed boat) flips upside-down into a lake. When Salomon, who is Jewish, refuses to help because Shabbat has just begun, Pivert fires him, much to Salomon's content. As Pivert goes to find assistance in an empty bubblegum factory, he involuntarily helps Mohammed Larbi Slimane (Claude Giraud), an Arab revolutionist leader, to escape a group of Secret Police agents from the regime he fights against, who are led by Farès (Renzo Montagnani).

Now on the run from both Farès and the French police, Pivert and Slimane bound and gag two rabbis at the very airport Jacob is awaited to by the Schmoll family and take their clothes to disguise. Pivert is then mistaken for Jacob by the Schmolls, and brought into the Jewish community in Paris. Hilarity ensues, and Pivert will also learn to overcome his prejudices along the way.

The film earned a nomination at the 1975 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Motion Picture.

The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob provides examples of:

  • Accidental Pervert: Farès, searching for Pivert and Slimane at the airport, tries the women's restroom and gets slapped for his troubles.
  • An Aesop: Throughout the journey, Pivert will learn to overcome his religious and ethnical prejudices.
  • All Jews Are Cheapskates: Played with in one scene, where Pivert (disguised as a rabbi) is negotiating with Salomon (the only one who knows him) to get him his job back. Pivert himself is obviously a cheapstake, but now that he's in costume...
    Salomon: Rabbi, I have a question. My boss just fired me because I don't work on Saturdays. What should I do?
    Pivert-as-Rabbi Jacob: Go see him and ask him to hire you again, he'll say yes! Ask him to give you a raise he'll say yes!
    Salomon: Will he double my wages?
    Pivert-as-Jacob: He'll say yes!
    Salomon: Will he triple them?
    Pivert-as-Jacob: He'll... say no.
  • Alter Kocker: No surprise, in a movie full of Jewish characters, the older ones evoke this archetype (save for Rabbi Jacob). Most notably stand-up comedian Popeck, for whom it was a trademark, in the minor role of Moishe Schmoll (even though he was only 38 at the time, he would keep many mannerisms of that character in his trademark stage persona as he got older).
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Antoinette (Pivert's daughter) is implied to be in one with Alexandre.
    • Esther Schmoll wants to marry Slimane to a redhead.
  • Ash Face: When expressing his disapproval with gestures at the sight of the mixed marriage he just bumped into, Pivert stands behind the married couple's car. They start the car and the bursting tailpipe covers him in ash. It results in a Blackface gag, with a wedding guest thinking he's the married black woman's father. It also qualifies as a short Color Me Black moment, considering Pivert's slightly racist outlook on things.
  • Badass Boast:
    Slimane: Revolution is like a bicycle! When the wheels don't turn, it falls!
    Pivert: Eddy Merckx?
    Mook: No, Che Guevara.
  • Beard of Evil: Farès is the film's villain, and he's bearded.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Spoofed when Pivert is flabbergasted at the sight of a mixed marriage.
  • Captain Obvious: "Salomon? You're Jewish?"
  • Character Development: Blatant in Pivert's case. He starts out as a prejudiced Jerkass with a Hair-Trigger Temper. He gets better over the course of the movie.
  • Clown Car: A number of people accompany Jacob to the airport and they all get into the same taxi, yet the first shots of Jacob and Samuel on the road give the impression that they're only two on the backseats of the taxi.
    Taxi driver: Hey! This is a taxi, not a synagogue!
  • Coincidental Accidental Disguise: Pivert and Slimane are mistaken for Rabbi Jacob and his friend Rabbi Samuel by the Schmoll family, and they find themselves driven to the welcoming committee that is waiting for Jacob's arrival in the middle of the Pletzl (the main Jewish quarter in Paris).
  • Covered in Gunge: The bubblegum factory sequence. First Pivert falls in a vat full of green liquid gum — twice. Despite being greatly incapacitated by the gum, he still manages to use the factory machinery to his advantage and send his pursuers to the same vat.
  • Delayed Reaction:
    • One of Farès' mooks guarding the bubblegum factory corrects Pivert (as seen in Badass Boast above) before realizing that maybe he should worry about the intruder who just talked.
    • Later, while talking to one of Farès's men on the phone (thinking he's a policeman), Pivert comments that he can see Farès right here, through the office's window... Cue Oh, Crap!
    • Also Farés at the Gas station, who just gives Slimane a passing-by look before realizing that the man he's chasing is in the nearby car.
  • Depraved Dentist: Well, not so depraved than "in-a-hurry-'cause-she's-marrying-her-daughter-today", but Pivert's dentist wife is still seen doing a rather half-assed job on her poor patient. Later, Farès threatens to torture her with her own instruments.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Alexandre (Pivert's daughter's fiancé). She leaves him the day of their marriage for a man she's never met before. Although it's implied it was an Arranged Marriage.
  • The Drag-Along: Pivert is mostly useless when it comes to help Slimane.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect:
    • The intro sequence in New York features the World Trade Center towers prominently in several shots.
    • The final credits are over a shot of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Pivert is introduced driving a car on the shoulder of a road to get past a traffic jam, establishing him as a jerkass, and complaining about foreigners and black people, establishing him as a xenophobe and bigot.
  • Facepalm: Slimane at the sight of Pivert/Rabbi Jacob dragged into the dance.
  • False Teeth Tomfoolery: As Germaine Pivert talks to her husband on the phone, she slams repeatedly on a table at her dentist's office, making several sets of false teeth open and close.
  • Faux Fluency: Tzippé "Mamé" Schmoll was played by the American actress Janet Brandt. She didn't speak French, so she had to learn the role phonetically, hence she sounds off compared to everyone else, though that can be shrugged off with What the Hell Is That Accent?
  • Fiery Redhead: Germaine (Pivert's wife) has red hair, and a fiery temper.
  • Fish out of Water: Pivert is a Christian and knows practically nothing about Judaism and Jewish culture, and finds himself having to act as a rabbi.
  • Foreshadowing: Pivert is married to a redhead, which is a hint that their daughter is also a redhead.
  • The Full Name Adventures: "The mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob".
  • George Jetson Job Security: Pivert fires Salomon as they are stuck on a river in the middle of nowhere... because Salomon leaves him there since it's Shabbat and he's forbidden to work.
  • The Ghost: We will never see who is and what does Thérèse Leduc look like.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Some Gratuitous Arabic.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The government of the unnamed country Slimane and Farès are coming from. They are the ones who sent Farès and his men to discreetly eliminate Slimane while he's in France to prevent his revolution from succeeding.
  • Hand Wave:
    David: Tell me Rabbi, why don't you have a beard?
    Slimane: Because I lent it to someone who didn't have one. Come!
  • Happy Ending: By the end, nobody has diednote , Pivert has completely shrugged off his prejudices about Jews, Slimane's revolution is a success and he can return victorious to his country with Farès now serving him, and Pivert's daughter will marry a man she loves, Slimane (now a chief of state, which suits Pivert's standards — in Pivert's words "A President of the Republic!", when his wife gets worried about who's going to marry her daughter now).
  • Has a Type: Mohammed Larbi Slimane has a big thing for redheads. When they're beautiful at least.
  • Henpecked Husband: Likely with Pivert and his wife.
  • Hidden Depths: As much he is pretty much a nuisance to Slimane, Victor Pivert has shown that he does have some skills beneath his "bourgeois" behavior.
    • He recognizes a Mao Zedong quote from Farès (although not the Che Guevara one from Slimane).
    • In the bubble-gum factory, he is throwing a barrel full of gum on a pair of Farès's goon and then release a silo full of bubblegum bead causing Farès to slip into the vat. Pivert can be quite the Action Survivor when his life is on the line.
    • When forced to do a Hassidic dance, he executes it flawlessly and is even amazed by his own prowess.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Pivert is introduced driving on a one-lane French road. He veers onto the shoulder to get around traffic. As his terrified chauffeur screams, Pivert sees an oncoming car also on the shoulder. He screams "What is he doing on the shoulder?"
  • Identity Impersonator: The two protagonists impersonate rabbis to escape Farès, though the "identity" part is purely accidental.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Farès makes Pivert believe he's a police officer while having him on the phone. Twice.
  • Inspector Javert: Commissioner Andréani goes after Pivert believing him to be a criminal.
  • Instant Expert: Pivert is dragged into a Hasidic dance and keeps up surprisingly well, despite being quite a clumsy individual and obviously never doing it before. It was "a miracle" according to him. In Real Life, De Funès trained for two months to perform it.
  • I Resemble That Remark!:
    David Schmoll: How are we going to recognize Uncle Jacob? The only one who know him is granny, and she can't see a thing...
    Granny Schmoll: What do you mean, I can't hear a thing?
  • Japanese Tourist: When Pivert emerges from the luggage carousel at the airport, a bunch of Japanese tourists immediately start taking pictures.
  • Jewish Mother: Rabbi Jacob's wife is this for her husband, bombarding him with advices for his stay in France before he leaves New York City.
  • Just Following Orders: Farès only follows orders from the dictatorship he serves. As soon as Slimane is proclaimed the new ruler of his country, he bows down and apologizes.
  • The Load: Pivert is completely useless when he has to help Slimane to get back to an airport. It is justified by him being just a businessman who is going to his daughter's wedding and basically being taken hostage.
  • Love at First Sight: Pivert's daughter Antoinette and Slimane at the end.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage:
    • Pivert is flabbergasted at the sight of a marriage between a white man and a black woman when being stuck in the traffic jam the wedding causes in a village. He's the only person who's bothered by this fact, everyone else is either happy for the couple or doesn't care. Then the Ash Face / Blackface gag ensues as a sort of Laser-Guided Karma for his racism.
    • By the end, Pivert's wife is shocked that her daughter is going away with the Middle-Eastern Slimane. When saying "You won't let her marry a...", she's cut short by Pivert saying "A President of the Republic! My daughter will marry a President of the Republic!"
  • Mean Boss: Pivert is quite mean toward all his employees, whether they work at his factory, or as his driver like Salomon.
    Pivert: I forbid them to go on strike! You do as usual: you promise everything and I give nothing!
  • Mistaken for an Imposter: Poor Rabbi Jacob (the real one) gets his beard pulled twice when he's mistaken for Pivert.
  • Mistaken for Fake Hair: The cops pursuing Victor Pivert learn he's mugged a rabbi for a disguise, including the beard. They run into the titular rabbi Jacob thinking it's Pivert and try to yank his beard off, leading to them having to apologize. Unfortunately for him, Pivert has now been mistaken for Jacob himself and his family members think he's the imposter.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Two rabbis at the airport, by Slimane and Pivert.
  • Nice Jewish Boy:
    • Salomon is very helpful, even though he's quite bitter towards his boss (for very good reasons).
    • Special mention goes to the guys who accompany Rabbi Jacob to the airport. Their cab ends up stuck in a traffic jam and time is running out, so what do they do? They all get out and simply... lift the cab, and carry it to the free part of the road.
      Rabbi Jacob: [to the taxi driver] You see my boy? Always believe in miracles!
  • "Not So Different" Remark: As much he is a racist Jerkass, Pivert points out that the Nice Jewish Boy is antagonistic toward the Muslim Slimane and bring us this small little gem:
    Victor Pivert: Say... Salomon... Slimane... Slimane-Salomon... Aren't you cousins?
    Salomon: [with an thinly veiled anger] Cousins?
    Slimane: Distanced... Thanks. [both shake hands]
That was a sorta Author Tract from the Jewish director Gérard Oury when the movie came out during the Yom Kippur War.
  • Pie in the Face: Commissioner Andréani receives the cheesecake that was intended for David's Bar Mitzvah in the face, courtesy of Rabbi Samuel.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Pivert's wife is dressed for the wedding.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Pivert, although he's not exactly a hero at first. An overt racist (horrified by a mixed-marriage), chauvinistic (praise a loud-mouthed and rude driver as a "True Frenchman") and somewhat prejudiced against Jews (the Brick Joke implies he "keeps anyways" his Jewish chauffeur, though he actually doesn't display much outright antisemitism outside being suspicious of Jews for reasons that go unexplained). When forced to disguise himself as a Rabbi, he discovers that Judaism and Catholicism have more things in common and becomes more open-minded over the movie.
    Pivert: [to his wife on the phone] Yes; I have Jewish friends! WHAT IS IT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?
  • Pornstache: Slimane. It was a trademark of Claude Giraud, the actor who played him.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort: When he is alone, in the countryside, at night and unable to use his car, he is reduced to praying on a road.
    Victor Pivert: Saint Antoine of Padoue, help me find a tow-trucker so I can fix my boat and my car and hire a new chauffeur. A catholic this time, I promise you... a catholic like you, like me and like God. [sees a building nearby] Ooohh light... [winks and smirks at the sky] Thanks, Saint Antoine...
  • The Reveal: Slimane mentions more than once how he really likes redheads. Meanwhile, Pivert's daughter Antoinette, who is supposed to be getting married, is wearing an elaborate headdress that covers all of her hair. At the climax, the headdress is blown off—revealing Antoinette's long and very red hair. A delighted Slimane whisks her onto the helicopter and off to his home country, where she'll apparently be First Lady.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Slimane's kidnapping was based on the disappearance of Mehdi Ben Barka in 1965.
  • Secondary Character Title: All in all, the eponymous Rabbi Jacob doesn't have much screentime; it's all really about Pivert impersonating him.
  • Senseless Violins: Subverted. Commissaire Andréani is convinced that the violin cases carried by Rabbis Jacob and Seligman hide firearms; they are in actuality used for violins.
  • Shown Their Work: The movie was co-written by a rabbi, Josy Eisenberg.
  • Slippery Skid: Victor Pivert is chased by Farès and his lieutenant inside the bubblegum factory. When cornered, he opens up a huge holder of bubblegum beads, sending them rolling under his pursuers' feet. After doomed efforts at staying upright, they finally fall and skid down some stairs, and then down a chute to end up into a vat of green liquid gum.
  • Sinister Shades: Farès wears these to emphasize the fact that he's the Big Bad.
  • Standard Snippet: What the music for the Hasidic dance has become. It wasn't an authentic one but specially composed for the movie by Vladimir Cosma, though still inspired by klezmer (traditional Hasidic music). Still, it has been readily adopted by the French Ashkenazi Jewish community ever since, and chances are high you'll hear it at Bar Mitzvahs or Jewish weddings.
  • Sticky Situation: After falling into a vat of liquid bubblegum, Pivert has some trouble with stuff sticking to him, including the soles of his shoes to the floor, buttons of a phone to his fingers or the chair he sits into.
  • Straight Man: Slimane to Pivert. Claude Giraud plays him completely straight, as if in a serious action movie, perfectly balancing De Funès' comedy.
  • Throat-Slitting Gesture: Farès is fond of doing this, mostly every time he sees either Slimane or Pivert.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Pivert starts out as this, being a racist Jerkass with a Hair-Trigger Temper. He gets better over the course of the movie.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Slimane is a rebel leader of a country — somewhere. Seemingly in North Africa, part of what was once the French colonial empire.
  • With Due Respect: The argument between Salomon and Pivert.