Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 01, 2005 11:25 am 
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(Netflix DVD)

Dry French comedy doesn't always travel well

Confusion here means inability to choose, but also suggests profusion, plethora, -- a delirious embarrassment of riches (and choices). At the center of every scene is bisexual lawyer Alain (Pascal Greggory). Everybody wants him, or thinks he wants them -- handsome imprisoned murderer Marc (Vincent Martinez), cute gay boy Christophe (Cyrille Thouvenin), attractive and accomplished law partner Laurence (Nathalie Richard, who's more Alain's age); the prisoner's (former) girlfriend Babette (the beautiful Julie Gayet). Marc's cellmate √Čtienne (played by noted singer Alain Bashung) even gets involved toward the end in this dry celebration of indecision and randomness. Alain and his law partner are talking about marrying, and it's all practical and boring, except that it's impulsive too. And not utterly cold, because, though she is even more neurotically indecisive than he is, they are best friends.

Through it all Pascal Greggory has that bored, annoyed look he always has; but he registers a lot of other looks too -- he's a consumately adept movie actor and for good reason one of the busiest in France. This is very French, a sort of comedy of ill humor, sex, and indecision, a very comfortable and vernacular variation on very old themes. The hilariously grumpy and irritable haute bourgeoisie relatives of Laurence and Alain who come into play when wedding bells are in the offing include the great Bulle Ogier as Laurence's mother. The various nude scenes aren't just titillation; they're all skillfully and sometimes hilariously illustrative of characters and situations and of Alain's embarras du choix, in a film that shifts quickly from the droll to the ridiculous and back again. A scene where Alain and Christophe undress each other while Alain talks on a cell phone, Alain protesting, then acquiesing -- to give just one example -- is as funny as it is physically agile in the staging.

La Confusion des genres is quick-witted and fast-paced and has an excellent cast but it's very French, very dependent on style and tone and language, and you wouldn't necessarily expect it to go over well with Americans. US critics pretty much hated it. On Metacritic it got a 39. Many American viewers think it's pretentious and unfunny. They miss the witty but blunt dialogue (which all the French critics complement), and they don't appreciate Greggory, who's perfect here, or the delicately observed range of French social and personality types. This is as good a treatment of the pains and pleasures of the bisexual life as seen from the French 21st-century standpoint as, in its time, was John Schlesinger's very English (1971) Sunday Bloody Sunday as a treatment of that kind of life lived across the pond, though as a movie this newer one doesn't carry quite as much weight as Schlesinger's did -- and clearly, like some wines, does not travel well even now. Yet it's great fun to watch if you can even come close to keeping up with the French.

Three Frenchmen doing a voice-over commentary in English for an American DVD doesn't turn out very well either. Director Duran Cohen studied at NYU Film School and and is fluent, but he's paired with Greggory and Thouvenin, who come across as both tight-lipped and short on vocabulary, and the conversation never gets going. Why didn't they do it in French with subtitles as Kassovitz, Cassel, and Reno did so entertainingly for the US Crimson Rivers DVD? Then maybe they would have been relaxed and talkative, as the Crimson Rivers team was, and something more informative might have resulted.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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