The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob (1973) is a classic French comedy directed by Gérard Oury starring Louis de Funès as Victor Pivert, a wealthy French industrialist who believes that everyone who is not white, Christian, and native-born French should go back where they came from — and if they were born in France, they should simply go away, out of his sight.
His life, however, is on a collision course with education. On the way to his daughter’s wedding, he discovers that his trusted chauffeur Salomon is (oh horrors!) a Jew. He stumbles into the hideout of a gang of murderers hired by an Arab government to kill a revolutionary, Mohamed Slimane, played by Claude Giraud. He himself is kidnapped by Slimane, and after a madcap chase in the Orly airport, winds up disguised as Rabbi Jacob, a beloved rabbi from New York who has come to visit family in France, who just happens to be the uncle of the chauffeur, Salomon.
Thus begins the reeducation of Victor Pivert, and the mad adventures of “Rabbi Jacob.” This film gleefully tackles the serious topics of racism and multiculturalism, holding out a vision of what might be possible if we were all forced to “get over it.”
The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob is a timeless comedy that has only improved with age. The humor is suitable for children, and still funny for adults. It is a great film for adults and children to share, because something in the film will be accessible and entertaining to nearly everyone, even those who don’t like or can’t read subtitles.
The message in the film is treated with a light hand, but there is a moment near the end of the film that approaches profundity. Salomon and Slimane, the Jew and the Arab politician, acknowledge their kinship and shake hands. Then everyone dashes off to be silly again.
The Jewish material in the film is authentic, especially the scenes in the synagogue.
Some viewers may wonder, after watching, why I tagged this picture as a film to watch for “Jewish values.” Watch the Jews in the film: what Jewish values do their actions express? How serious is Salomon about Shabbat, about hospitality, about loving and protecting “the stranger”? Why is Rabbi Jacob so beloved?