Époque France never looked so grotesque. The idle rich still come to the Opal
Coast to be even less productive, but this time it is they who will become
fodder for the rustic locals. Class distinctions and gender roles will take a
bizarre thrashing in Bruno Dumont’s Slack
an absurdist comedy with the emphasis on the absurd, which opens this Friday in
Van Peteghems have come to summer at Slack Bay, because that is what
respectable people do. Unbeknownst to them, the clam-digging, muscle-harvesting
Brufort family has been killing and eating obnoxious bourgeoisie tourists, both
for reasons of class consciousness and to put food on the table. Stoop
shouldered André Van Peteghem sets a whole new standard for condescension and
his sister Aude might be even snobbier. Yet, somehow the Peteghems could be too
ridiculous for the Bruforts to kill.
course, it does not hurt that oldest Brufort son Ma Loute has fallen head over heels
for Aude’s daughter Billie. Technically, the local police chief Alfred Machin
and his deputy Malfoy are still investigating the missing tourists, but they
inspire less confidence than their obvious inspiration, Laurel and Hardy. When
the rotund Machin tips over on his side, it requires quite a laborious effort
to right him, so they should not pose much threat to the Bruforts. However, Ma
Loute has yet to see Billie when she is in the mood to pull back her hair and
don her Annie Hall wardrobe. Her
family always accepted he gender playfulness rather casually, because they
simply aren’t the sorts to get worked up over anything, but her new proletarian
boyfriend is cut from a different cloth—in just about every possible sense.
is almost impossible to convey the tone and viewing experience of Slack Bay. In many ways, it looks stylistically
akin to Dumont’s sly and shocking endearing Li’l Quinquin, but it retains undercurrents of the old, grimly fatalistic Dumont
who helmed laugh-a-minute films like Hors Satan and the unremittingly punishing Flanders.
In Slack Bay, human nature is irredeemably
tainted, but it’s a lovely day, so let’s go to the beach.
times, the slapstick humor and wacky fantastical realism of Slack Bay makes Tom & Jerry look subtle, but you have to admire the dogged
determination with which it is plied. To be honest, there are scenes of such
lunacy it made your correspondent laugh out loud, but he was the only one laughing
during the screening. Indeed, Dumont’s visuals can be overwhelming. Think of
the film as day-to-day scenes from The Village in Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, as rendered by Bill
Plympton collaborating with Honoré Daumier.
have probably never seen Juliette Binoche act so Meryl Streepy over-the-top,
but she just doubles and triples down as the stately Aude Van Peteghem. On the
other hand, Fabrice Luchini is totally in his element as the Van Peteghem
patriarch (sort of like Frasier Crane raised to the power of one hundred).
Brandon Lavieville’s Ma Loute (the titular character in its original French
release) is rather dully brutish, whereas the economically-named Raph has a bright
but suitably ambiguous screen presence as Billie Van Peteghem. Yet, Didier
Després and Cyril Rigaux steal the show over and over again. As Manchin and
Malfoy, they are a spectacle unto themselves.
It is nearly impossible to believe the gleefully
anarchical Slack Bay was crafted by
the same filmmaker who helmed the dreary, didactic Hadewijch, but here it is. This is the sort of film that has to be
seen to be believed. Every critic compares this magnum peculiarity to Buñel,
but the grand set pieces of Terry Gilliam and Mel Brooks’ buckshot-scattergun
approach to comedy are nearly as apt. Everyone really should see Slack Bay, just so they can disbelieve
their own eyes, especially if they have restively sat through previous Dumont
films. Recommended for those who appreciate eccentricity on an epic scale, Slack Bay opens this Friday (4/21) in
New York, at the Quad Cinema downtown and the Film Society of Lincoln Center
Labels: Bruno Dumont, Fabrice Luchini, French Cinema, Juliette Binoche