I covered Cannes Film Festival this year and I will be posting my reviews on here daily. My pieces are on a website known as The Upcoming, and have been published in something called Swipe magazine.
There are two important things to note about Bruno Dumont’s surrealist seaside farce: it is beautifully shot and absolutely infuriating. As an impressionistic exhibition of fin-de-siècle rural France, the film is of note; as a coherent, funny and intelligent glimpse into the human condition, it is valueless; as a possible comment on the sensibilities of the poor and old money aristocracy, it is a cipher.
The film begins with the rebellious Ma Loute Bréfort (Brandon Lavieville) and his father, addressed only as “The Eternal”, mussel-picking on the shore of their isolated village located in northern France. Rolling into view is the ornate, melodramatic Van Peteghem family, including couple Isabelle (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and André (Fabrice Luchini), settling down for their annual retreat in a dilapidated mansion overlooking the bay. The two sets of lives become juxtaposed, with a link between the families established through Ma Loute and an androgynous character called Billie, captivatingly portrayed by newcomer Raph. Love, of sorts, blossoms between the pair, but opprobrium from Billie’s mother, Aude (a monumentally grating performance from Juliette Binoche), and a mysterious set of disappearances, threatens to bring their relationship to an abrupt, violent conclusion. The two inspectors investigating the cases are intentionally risible, however, and much of the film’s attempt at humour stems from the fat one’s repeated slapstick (spoiler: he falls over a lot).
Throwing together cannibalism, incest, arbitrary assault and levitations, Dumont creates a cut-and-paste bricolage of themes, none of which carry the humour or profundity that he seems to think are worthy of investment. There appears to be no wish from Dumont to unite any ideas or explore the beautiful imagery that is undoubtedly on show. It is difficult decide whether this indulgence or intellectual laziness. The performances are almost universally irritating, consisting of broad, over-the-top caricatures that are truly, indelibly unfunny. Perhaps, some of the sharper lines were lost in translation – rooted as the film is in French traditions and customs – but the film’s comic perspective is skewed at best, and completely misconceived at worst.