Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:03 am 
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Legal funny business

9 Month Stretch, actor Albert Dupontel's fifth directorial outing, in which he costars with skilled comedienne Sandrine Kiberlain, is a droll, disposable, far-fetched little French legal comedy with plenty of good visual business. Ariane Felder (Kiberlain) is a severe, driven, highly accomplished Paris Judge d'instruction (a title peculiar to the civil, rather than common law, trial system). She's a proudly single 30-something married only to her work and slated for precocious promotion to a more exalted slot in the Paris courts pecking order. As a result of being pulled unwilling into her colleagues' raucous New Year's celebration and getting quite drunk, she finds herself six months later, to her utter surprise, pregnant with a little boy. Eventually it turns out the father is not, as she first thought, her flirty, supercilious colleague Godfrey (Philippe Uchan), but a common criminal known as Bob Nolan (Dupontel). How the dickens did that happen? Obviously nobody was paying very good attention, neither the colleague, nor Arnane, nor Bob Nolan, who doesn't seem to remember it either.

To begin with -- example of Dupontel's taste in visual business, augmented by a hyperactive swirling camera swinging restlessly from sight gag to sight gag -- Ariane blasts Godrey in the head with a golf club, drawing off a hunk of flesh and blood, which she takes to a court lab for a DNA test. More violent business comes as the forensics surgeon gleefully chops up and saws a corpse as they talk. It is sort of funny, because it's so Monty-Pythonishly over the top, and we're surprised to see such gleeful gore in a sort of sophisticated French comedy. Other slapstick includes a statuette that knocks out Godfrey later when he's banging on the desk angrily in his office, and Ariane jumping off a chair to cause a (far too late) miscarriage, caught just in time by Bob. And repeated images of an elderly bourgeois who was not just burglarized but has his limbs lopped off and his eyes popped out and eaten by the burglar. Bob imagines alternate versions of this crime, which he's accused (falsely) of, when discussing with an eventually friendly Ariane how he might be forgiven of this horror, if he can't prove he didn't do it. And this is funny too, again because it can't possibly be taken seriously so you must laugh so as not to cry or toss your cookies, and it's Monty Python-inspired. By the way Bob escapes from jail in a trice to go and see Ariane and prusue his defense: piece of cake. After all, he's a safe-cracker, and this is farce.

A lengthy piece of more verbal but still utterly slapstick business is Bob's assigned defense lawyer, Maître Trolos (Nicolas Marié), a preposterously spectacular stammerer whose disability would have kept him in real life from even vaguely considering this profession as an option. No wonder Bob locks Ariane in with him in her apartment to force her to take on his case. When another preposterous detail, a police surveillance man (Belgian vet Bouli Lanners of Rust and Bone) who has detailed videotapes of every move of Ariane and of Bob on New Year's night, makes Ariane realize Bob is the father, she is led into a dramatic defense indeed that trumps Maître Trolos' bumbles.

Beyond the sight gags this film lightly mocks the hypocrisies and confusions of the French legal system, not always very plausibly. But the lack of realism does not undercut the technical prowess and up-to-date-ness of the visual gags. There are cameos by Terry Gilliam (a sign of the Monty Python mentoring here) as an imprisoned Hannibal Lector type who endorses the limb-lopping eye-gobbling burglar, and Jean Dujardin of The Artist as a translator. The basic elements here might work for an American remake, though the legal details would have to be altered considerably and tone would be a tricky matter.

Rube Goldberg might almost have been another distant mentor, in the unlikely case that Dupontel and his crew ever heard of him.

9 Month Stretch doesn't begin to care about plausibility -- it only cares about laughs. And it gets them -- especially from an audience on an early Sunday afternoon that was already chuckling at the trailers.

9 Month Stretch/9 mois ferme, a trim 82 mins., debuted at Angoulême and opened in Belgium and France 16 October 2013. Screened for this review at UGC Odéon 27 Oct. If Allociné's press ratings are to be trusted, this got somewhat better reviews in the French press (4.0) than Jodorowsky's new film (3.9), though the latter would seem destined to be longer remembered, by far. 9 Month Stretch got César nominations for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. Kiberlain won for Best Actress.

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