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ISABELLE CARRÉ AND ANDRÉ DUSOLLIER IN 21 NIGHTS WITH PATTIE

A disappearing corpse and a prim wife getting sexier

In the Larrieu brothers' 21 Nights with Pattie, we enter summer around a beautiful villa in the filmmakers' warm native Hautes-Pyrénées region of southwestern France where the owner, a lady named Isabelle, nicknamed Zaza, has just died. Her estranged daughter Catherine (Isabelle Carré) has come for the funeral. She runs into Pattie (Kain Viard), who used to clean house, and is regaled with non-stop tales of sexual encounters couched in a four-letter dirty-talk style out of Henry Miller's Sexus-Nexus-Plexus trilogy in French translation. By film's end the talk has had its liberating influence, and the prim Catherine, who's married to Sergi Lopez and has two young daughters, will have begun to talk sexy too, and celebrate her husband's penis in this sunny but oddball celebration of life, which the French critics loved. The public didn't, and neither did I. I never really felt any emotional connection with the action or the talk. But I understood what the brothers were getting at, something like what C.L. Barber talks about in his book, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: a general coming-together of spirits and body, humans and nature.

Along the way, a mysterious former lover of Zaza's called Jean (the ubiquitous André Dusollier, a favorite of the late Alain Resnais and in three Rendez-Vous films this year) arrives just when Zaza's body has disappeared, with suspicions by the police (happily, untrue) of necrophilia or necrophagia involved. Catherine begins to suspect that Jean is the writer J. M. G. Le Clézio, and might be her father. But Zaza slept around as much as Pattie, and there are other suspects.

Other men flirt with Catherine, a police captain (Laurent Poitrenaux), a bestial man of vibrant energy (ubiquitous Leos Carax muse Denis Lavant), and Zaza's half-clad, half-Moroccan young son Kamil (Jules Ritmanic) who lives in the woods in a trailer in the summer. Themes of poetry, love, sex, and dance are interwoven with a mood of summer festivity, death, and hints of a ghost story.

The Larrieu brothers are noted for their uniquely personal comedies. At least this one has a good cast, sun-kissed locations, and beautiful cinematography. But that doesn't make it relatable as a movie unless you're a confirmed Larrieu brothers fan. Too much is going on, and yet in the end not very much, and it doesn't come together enough. I didn't really like the Larrieus' 2013 Love Is a Perfect Crime (R-V 2014), the only other of their films I've seen, either, but in retrospect its greater saturation in crime genre atmosphere made it marginally more appetizing to me. In his Variety review Guy Lodge sums up, "Beginning as a rural whodunnit, with Isabelle Carre’s exasperated outsider seeking the stolen corpse of her estranged mother, before loosely spiraling into a far stranger fusion of erotic awakening and ghost story, this mirthfully performed original could prove one of the Larrieus’ livelier international players." We shall see.

21 Nights with Pattie/21 nuits avec Pattie, 115 mins., debuted 28 Aug. 2015 at Angoulême, with three other festivals including London and Rotterdam. At 25 Nov. 2015 French theatrical release, the AlloCiné press rating was 4.2, but the viewers rating is only 2.9. Screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center (in collaboration with UniFrance), shown to the public Fri. Mar. 11 at 1:30 p.m. and Sat. Mar. 12 at 6:45.

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